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Posts Tagged ‘harvest’

A Small Kitchen Garden Broccoli Notebook

From time-to-time, I’ve grown broccoli in my small kitchen garden. This is an ideal vegetable for someone who hasn’t done much gardening, but there are a few things worth knowing before you get started.

Start from live plants

small kitchen garden broccoli

If you’re new to gardening and planting broccoli, do yourself a favor and buy plants already started at a garden store (if your small kitchen garden is deep in the city, you might have to start from seeds, but I’m encouraging you to make this as easy as possible).

Broccoli tolerates crowding

Instructions that come with the plant(s) or seeds will tell you to grow them two-to-three feet apart. I’ve crowded them to one-and-a-half feet between plants. Those plants have reached above my knee, and have produced a fine supply of broccoli spears. There are three disadvantages of crowding your plants:

  1. It will be hard to move between them… and a broccoli plant gets bushy enough that you might not be able to step over it.
  2. Disease can spread more easily among crowded plants than it can among plants that are spaced generously.
  3. The foliage of crowded plants can create a moisture barrier that may trap water and promote rot.

Still, I’ve never had a problem when leaving only 18 inches between broccoli plants.

Don’t harvest the plant

When that big crown of broccoli florets is perfectly ready (you’ll know it because it will look like broccoli you buy in a grocery store), harvest the crown, but leave the rest of the plant alone; the plant will produce more food for you over the next several weeks.

When you harvest, use a sharp knife to cut cleanly through the main stalk an inch or so below where the stem branches to the various clusters of buds. (Each little ball in a broccoli floret is a bud waiting to blossom into a small yellow flower.) Make the cut on a bias so water will run off of it easily.

Prepare your meal

Even if broccoli has never before grown in your neighborhood, the dreaded broccoli worms will find your plants. Actually, the worms aren’t so dreadful, but they’ve turned many a small kitchen gardener off to growing their own broccoli. These worms are smooth and green, and they tend to hide in the branches of broccoli florets.

broccoli worm

If you don’t want green worms to cook along with your broccoli, dissolve a few tablespoons of salt in a pot of water, separate the broccoli into serving-sized florets, and soak the florets in the salt water for twenty minutes. Almost all the broccoli worms will die and float to the surface. If you’re not convinced, inspect the florets before you cook them.

About aging broccoli plants

When you harvest the main crown of a broccoli plant, the stem becomes susceptible to rot. In a dry year, the plant may not rot at all. However, don’t be surprised if the stump rots from the center, creating a bowl that holds moisture promoting even more rot. At its worst, a broccoli plant decaying this way can smell incredibly bad… but it may continue to produce more florets on new stalks that grow from the side of the main stalk. If this happens in your garden, you’ll have to decide whether the sustained broccoli harvest is worth having such a stench in your small kitchen garden.

The photo of a broccoli worm (more properly known as the Imported Cabbageworm) is from the University of Kentucky Entomology web page:


Here are links to other articles about growing broccoli and dealing with broccoli worms:

  • Broccoli Growing Guide – SOIL PREPRATION You dont need any special form of soil or location to grow broccoli. All it needs is the sunlight with some shadow shades of clouds. But dont grow broccoli under a closed compound. Use a little heavy soil which is not …

  • Some notes on the broccoli experiment – I thought perhaps that most people don’t grow broccoli in their home gardens because the plants take up too much space and only produce one big head, but from this spring’s sowing, I have had a constant (trickling) supply of broccoli …

  • The Great Bacillus Thuringiensis Story, no more Woms, non Chemical … – “When I realized I could grow broccoli without ever worrying about worms again, I wanted to get up and dance! No More Worms! For a long time I didn’t eat much broccoli. I planted a lot of it but each spring when my broccoli was starting …


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Harvesting Pears

Green  pear

Why is a blog about your small kitchen garden talking about harvesting pears? Pears grow on trees, so how can they qualify for a small kitchen garden? Well… when it comes to home-grown fruit, you have to stretch some rules: if you want home-grown pears, the smallest thing you can grow to get them is a tree. For many of us, there’s an even simpler excuse: we moved to houses that had pear trees growing in the yard, and it seems a shame to let the fruit go to waste.

OK, but have you bitten into one of those pears, picked fresh-ripe from your tree? Did it make you wonder what’s wrong with the tree? Did you think, perhaps, that you got stuck with an inferior plant?

The hard truth is actually good news: picking a ripe pear and biting into it can be really disappointing. A pear that ripens on the tree often develops unevenly: there may be hard spots among the soft. As well, a tree-ripened pear may be grainy—as if there is sand sprinkled through it.

Here’s the good part: you can get terrific fruit from your pear tree.

Getting perfect pears

When your pears start to look big enough to eat, pay enough attention to notice when one falls off the tree. This usually happens before the pears are ripe. At this point, pick all of them. Stack the newly-picked, still green pears in a refrigerator where they can stay for a month or so without interfering with your life. Your mission is to keep the pears at about 40 degrees.

After four or more weeks, take several pears out of the refrigerator and leave them at room temperature for two or three days—or until they’re ripe. As you consume the first set of pears, remove several more from cold-storage, and set them to ripen at room temperature. When you bite into a pear harvested and stored this way, you’ll gain considerable appreciation for that pear tree in your yard.

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Are Your Tomatoes a Mess?

Many years ago, I read in our local newspaper that I was harvesting my tomatoes in the worst possible way: I was letting them ripen on the vine.

What? The grocery store sells vine-ripened tomatoes. Aren’t these the best? Isn’t there a produce supplier that calls itself “Vine-Ripe Tomatoes.” Truth is, vine ripening is hype. Unless you carefully control your soil’s nutrition, watering, and the climate, ripening on the vine is not what it’s cracked up to be… and all that activity makes your small kitchen garden anything but a lazy garden.

Do your vine-ripened tomatoes have any of the following problems?

  • There is a hard ring of flesh around the top that isn’t as tasty as the rest of the tomato.
  • The lower part of the tomato is dead-ripe or even starting to rot while the top of the tomato is still green.
  • There are rings of thin white skin around the top of the tomato, blemishing the healthy, red skin.
  • There are cracks that run from the stem down the sides of the tomato, and some start to turn black before the rest of the tomato is ripe.

Ripening tomatoes

Here’s the easiest way to cure these problems:

When you see pink on your mostly-green tomatoes, pick them. Yes, I’m telling you to pick your tomatoes when they’re almost completely green.

Leave the tomatoes someplace out of the elements. I typically fill a large stainless steel bowl with my nearly green tomatoes, and leave it on my dining room table. If you’re meticulous and you like the bowl idea, put the greenest tomatoes on the bottom, and stack more on them so the ripest tomatoes are on top. As you pick more nearly-green tomatoes, stack them in a separate container.

Monitor the tomatoes casually: have a look each day. In three days to a week, you’ll be able to pick ripe tomatoes from the bowl, and most of the tomatoes will ripen at about the same time. You can leave the ones that ripen first for several days as the slower tomatoes catch up.

If this whole idea sounds crazy, then do a test with a few tomatoes: pick three or four that are showing their first pink, and set them aside till they’re ripe. Compare the quality with your vine-ripened, challenged tomatoes. You might decide to harvest all your tomatoes this way.

Other’s thoughts about harvesting tomatoes, and about what to do with them after the harvest:

  • When To Harvest Tomatoes – I’d pondered this issue when I first started growing tomatoes. Reading advice from various experts, the “ideal” first choice is to allow the tomatoes to ripen on the vine, are fully red (or other color, such as yellow, depending on the …

  • De-hydrating the Harvest: Tomatoes, Pears and Apples – Last year when working at the farm in Tehachapi I lucked out when I had an excess of tomatoes combined with a thoughtful friend and farm volunteer, Kristin, who provided me with a perfect tool for preserving the excess for winter use. …

  • A garden meal – As I was working in the garden last weekend, I took stock of our harvest: tomatoes, eggplant, basil, tomatillos, spinach, beans and peppers. The tomatoes and eggplant needed to be used, so I decided to take advantage of the cooler …

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