We get into ruts. We tend to grow the same vegetables every year. And we tend to grow them in the same way, and we also tend to harvest them at the same point in their life cycle. For example, most of us think of collards as a leafy green, so we grow them for their leaves.
One way that I am challenging myself to expand my gardening method and approach to vegetables is by reading old books on vegetable gardening. The raised bed system that is popular today was developed in Europe hundreds of years ago.
There are many wonderful gardening books dating back to the 1500s. For a long time I was puzzled in these old books by the common reference to “sprouts.” My first thought, of course, was Brussels sprouts. But, that turned out to be wrong. It turns out that English vegetable gardeners often allowed brassicas to bolt in order to harvest their immature flower buds. Broccoli didn’t become a common English garden vegetable until the 1700s. Before that, gardeners harvested the broccoli-like sprouts of cabbage, kale, and other brassicas and ate them like, well, like broccoli. They boiled the stems in salted water and served with fresh butter. Fresh sprouts dropped into boiling water within hours of harvest and served with a good butter is a treat.
This photograph is of a collard plant that is beginning to bolt. You can clearly see the side-shoots. I personally feel that the side shoots of collards are the best of all the brassicas, including that of broccoli. Collard sprouts are often very sweet and the plant can also be very sprout productive. The photograph here is of a modest sized collardt. I have had plants grow to six feet high and as wide.
My suggestion to you this year is to harvest collard greens the way you usually do, but then, when the leaves are getting super large and tough= sit back and relax while your plants begin to move into their flowering phase. Keep up the water and care. Each plant will shoot up and broaden. Harvest sprouts as they reach maturity.
I also suggest that you leave a few sprouts on plants to flower. Collard flowers adds color to your garden, offers a refuge in for bees and other pollinating insects, and provides cut flowers for your house.
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