Category Archives: Gardening

Life Cycle Gardening – Which plants and flowers are edible?

Have you ever thought about whether those garden vegetable plants and flowers are edible?  I have!  So i decided to find out which ones are good for you…..And, what exactly is Life Cycle Gardening?   Here is a short explanation before we get started:

The life cycles of all the plants you choose for your garden play a large part in the garden’s overall design. A plant’s life cycle consists of the amount of time it takes for them to become mature enough to bloom, produce seed, and ultimately die. … Annuals: Annuals complete their life cycle in a single growing season.  Perennials keep on growing each season…

Food – Asparagus Tips – cultivated for its edible shoots and eaten as a vegetable.

What does this all mean you ask?

In simple terms when planting and growing your vegetables, flowers, or fruits you allow the life cycle of the plant to continue beyond its harvesting time.  Allowing the plants to either bolt or flower beyond its normal harvesting time produces not only flowers, additional stems and seeds that are in many cases also edible. In my research I have found a few plants that are not only edible but good for you.

During the spring you may notice that your vegetable garden is full of color.  Many of these vegetable plants send up a flowering stem sometimes called “bolting”.  While many gardeners consider bolting to be the end of the line  for their plants, its many times just the beginning  for the life cycle gardener.

The concept behind life cycle gardening is that the point which we tend to harvest the fruits of our labor is just one stage in a plants life cycle. That stage isn’t the only one that produces good food or something else of value, such as flowers. Vegetable flowers may be the easiest way to transition into life cycle gardening.  If the thought of leaving anything to bolt may send shivers up your spine, you can ease yourself into it by putting aside a few plants for flowering.  When you start to see honeybees, bumblebees, and other pollinators visit your garden and those flowers you can be happy knowing that’s another part of life cycle gardening.  If you happen to be one that sells to Farmers Markets, you may find that vegetable flowers can be harvested for sale.

What Flowers Can be Eaten?

Cilantro Flowers:

While many vegetable flowers can be eaten, A favorite seems to be Cilantro blooms.  If you only see the Cilantro plant that are normally harvested for their leaves,  many people don’t recognize the plant when it grows into a three foot tall bush of small, white flowers.  The flowers begin at ground level and grow on umbrels surrounded by tufts of feathery leaves, with each having its own bouquet.  The flowers supposedly add a nice flavor to salads.

Yellow Onions:

Yellow Onion flowers rise on long stalks in rows in your garden.  Each stalk is topped by long lasting balls of white stars.  Sprinkle a few onion flowers on any salad and you will end up with an oniony tasting surprise.

Vegetable Flower Buds:

Vegetable Flower Buds are almost always edible and delicious — think artichokes and broccoli.  Bolting stems from lettuce , make a tender vegetable in their own right and flavorful.  Those Buds that we tend to eat such as Broccoli are from cultivars selected for their mild taste.  One you begin your life cycle gardening journey, you may move in the world of stronger flavors and rich character.  If you try something and its stronger than you prefer, you can try blanching  it in light salted water to lessen the flavor.

A Few Easy Vegetables to Get You Started With Life Cycle Gardening:

You can try a few to begin with or go all out and try them all!  It’s a Great way to maximize your harvest.

Artichokes and Cardoons:

For many Life Cycle Gardeners, the Cardoon Flower Stalks ( above pictured) are said to be the glory of the vegetable garden.  Actually, i’ve never heard of them until now! They have multi-branched stalks that rise above 6 feet.  They are loved by bees and butterflies and have blue flowers that are said to glow in the late afternoon sun.  Artichoke and Cardoon flowers can be picked for the kitchen or grown in long lasting florist crops.  You can also leave the stalks to dry in place, and plant peas at their base the following year for a natural made trellis.

The underutilized portion of the artichoke and cardoon is the flower stalk. When its still flexible, the stalk just below the harvested chokes or the cardoon flowers, are really tender and delicious.  You can also split mature artichoke stalks in half. The interior is called the pith.  It has a slight smoky flavor and is good raw or parboiled and served with butter.  The most common cardoon preparation is to make a gratin with the central rib of the blanched stems. A good secret is to wrap the stems with straw or newspaper several weeks before harvesting to blanch.

After harvesting the central artichoke bud, the plant will produce numerous smaller buds as side shoots. These smaller buds are said to be a delicacy.  You should harvest them when they are no more than 2 to 3 inches tall.  To prepare them, remove the outer leaves to reveal the lighter green leaves, then cut off the top third of the bud, slice thinly on the vertical cross section , and fry in hot olive oil until crisp.  Throw a little salt on before serving!

Fava Beans ( Never heard of these – but interesting)

It is said that if you give Fava’s space they will tiller…That means they will put out many stems. For the Gardener this means that the Fava Beans ( above) will offer up tender axillary buds which are more deeply flavored that pea shoots – and more plentiful. One bed of fava beans will produce pounds of shoots.

Fava Bean pods are very edible whole and raw when they are very young. They can be cooked, pod and all, when the beans are halfway to maturity. However, when they mature they are best cooked when removed from the pod. They can be dried, and like dried peas and beans, can be rehydrated for use in soups and many dishes.  After blooming, you can cut the plants back to a few inches above the ground.  and they will often re-sprout to offer a second crop. These look like a great substitute for peas and beans!!!

Beets

baby beets

If you plant Beets that you bought from the grocery store they will immediately start producing leaves., which you can harvest as a cut- and -come- again salad crop.  Depending on your particular climate a beet plant may continue to produce for several years.  Both beets and chard ( which by the way are both related) produce tender flower buds when they bolt. I’m sure in your experiences you have found that leaving plants alone and seeing what happens can yield some very happy surprises.   If you happen to leave bolted beet stems to overwinter, the following spring will produce and lined with flowers of edible leaves  that offer a great addition to salads.

While some have found that harvesting beet buds is okay, they also find that chard plants are more productive.

When growing Chard, many have found that the Chard Buds are great additions. You can grow chard simply for the flower spikes that grow off the main stalk as it bolts.  Bolting Chard also takes up less room in the garden.  These plants can grow up to 5 or 6 feet tall and may need to be staked.

Chard plants also produce dozens of stalks with edible buds.  The best time to harvest is when the buds are tight and begin to show a little yellow.  They are also said to be delicious anyway you cook them, but its recommended to parboil them with lightly salted water  and then a little aromatic olive oil to top them off.  Many also have been known to cook them in tomato sauce. The thick rib of the leaves can be separated from the leaves and cooked as well.

Collards and Kale

When a healthy Collard bolts it can expand to become a reasonable sized shrub.  Some plants grow as tall as 6 feet high and just as wide.  They produce alot of small , tasty leaves, but the stars of the bolting collards are in the sprouts, flowers, and young seed pods.  ( Seen Below)

Collard seeds are the sweetest of the brassicas family and have beautiful flowers at the bolting stage.  They also make great bee magnets for your garden. Picked tender they also make a great culinary delight like the string bean and can be boiled whole and served with butter.  You can also fry them in hot olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and serve as a side dish.  Don’t leave them too long as they can become very stringy.   If you sell at a Farmers Market, collards have other options after the main leaf crop is of no value.   A single plant can produce an enormous amount of stalks, and generous seed pods and sprouts. 

Kale, a close relative of collards –  which both are the varieties of Brassica oleracea, have yellow flowers and flavorful edible sprouts.  It’s just as a productive producer as collards can be.

Cilantro and Coriander

If you happen to live in a hot climate during the summer months and hesitate to grow cilantro because it does have a knack for bolting, you have nothing to fear!  You can grow it for those green seeds and exotic flowers.

These plants are traditionally harvested in two stages of its plant life cycle. The first stage is the leaf cycle, which gives you Cilantro, and the seed cycle which gives you Coriander…The leaves, green seeds, and roots can all be used as well.  The roots are a little milder than the leaves and can be added to salads if you like. Green Coriander has a lemon flavor that mixes well with Chicken or seafood.  The plant also has white to pink flowers, like dill and fennel, that are great to sell as cut flowers. Also the leaves growing around the flowers are aromatic and can be added to salads.

Chicories

These hearty perennial bad boys, when bolting,  can grow from a modest 12 to 18 inches to over 6 feet tall.   The large plants can produce alot of edible buds  with plenty to spare to blossom into delicate, light blue flowers.  If you happen to leave some plants to go to full seed, you will have dozens of young plants the next spring. Its been found that in the Liguria region of Italy they parboil the buds and add them to crumbled sausage in a frying pan. They also dig up young roots  during the spring and add them to salads. The young leaves always make for the best addition to salads while the matured leaves need parboiling.  Chicory Coffee is also made with Chicory roots by just adding ground coffee with roasted chicory root.

 

Lettuce

We all know that lettuce prefers a colder climate to grow. Did you know that you can peel the stalks of boiling lettuce – the younger stalks are the best and before those buds emerge. You just may end up with something much like a cucumber. Even on a hot day which can trigger bolting, you may find the lettuce stalks to be a great treat.  You can even show off a little of your marketing skills and bundle several stalks with some leaves left at the top to sell.

Onions and their relatives

If you want to try a different approach,  plant some bulbing onions, including garlic, as a cut-and-come-again green. If you leave them alone to overwinter, bulbing onions have a tendency to divide and naturalize.  Leeks produce bulbs at their base  and leave these to grow in place to produce an expanding clump of thin leeks, or separate and transplant to start a standalone crop.

Typically, during the second year, all of your onions will have a cluster of long lasting small flowers from white, to pink, lavender.  Again, if you happen to sell at Farmers Markets and it works with your production schedule, you can find a crop of onion or chive flowers more valuable than onion bulbs alone.  By the way, a few onion flowers on any salad can add color and flavor if you are wanting to impress your guests.

Radishes

While many people grow radishes for their roots, another idea is to allow your plants to flower. Radish flowers have four petals which can show beautiful shades of white, pink, and mauve. They are a host to the Sara Orangetip butterfly on the West Coast. Radishes normally grow into open flowering plants than can reach 18 inches or more in height.  The Seed pods are also edible  and can be harvested when they are tender.  You can slice them into salads, cook whole, or pickle them.

And Finally, TOMATOES!

 

And everyone’s favorite, the Tomato!  I sometimes enjoy a thick slice of tomato between two slices of bread with some Dukes Mayonnaise spread on it. But, dont forget that other parts of the tomato plant that are also edible.

Their is still that myth that you shouldn’t eat the leaves of the tomato plant. Contrary to that belief, they are, in fact, edible and contain the same compounds and aromatic flavors as its fruit.  Just add a few fine chopped leaves to that homemade tomato sauce during the last few minutes of cooking or the general rule is two or three leaves per each pound of tomatoes.

Now that your gardening season is about to begin give these few tips a try without wasting the entire plant.  Let us know your experiences with this tasty and edible alternative.. We would love to hear from you in the comments section.