Harvesting Broccoli

The central head is always the largest, but many varieties of broccoli also make numerous small side shoots. If you leave them — and continue to care for the plant — your broccoli bounty will be increased.

First, keep your eye on that central head. You want it to grow as large as possible while remaining firm and tightly packed, with no sign of expanding buds that signal imminent flowering.

As soon as it stops enlarging and/or the buds begin to swell, cut it off, locating the cut right above a leaf node where a secondary shoot is forming.

The ideal spot for decapitation can be anywhere from 4 to 9 inches down, depending on the season. Hot weather makes broccoli bolt, and although it doesn’t mind light frosts it will be killed by hard ones. So if the main head reaches harvest size in early fall, cut it short. Leaving most of the plant behind will give you the most side shoots. If the main head isn’t ready until the weather is about to turn, you might as well cut it with a longer edible stem and enjoy it while the enjoying’s good.

Note: The large-headed broccoli common in both stores and gardens is not the only source of delicious spears and tender florets. You can also grow the heirloom variety ‘Di Cicco’, or sprouting broccoli. This one also makes a large plant, but instead of offering one large head and several much smaller ones (which are ready much later), sprouting broccoli skips the big production in favor of a smaller central head and a steady supply of side shoots that, while by no means huge, are larger (and earlier) than the side shoots of traditional broccoli.

No digging!

At this time of year, driving along the roads you’ll see swaths of beautiful color. A thicket of branches, each laden with bright red berries; a wide patch of wildflowers carpeting the mowed verge; lilies growing in thick clumps on the banks of a drainage ditch … these roadside beauties seem to be saying, “Come and get me. I’m yours for the taking.”

The temptation is especially strong when the land is clearly untended, even stronger when there appears to be plenty for everyone. But it is almost always ill-mannered (and often illegal) to give in.

Private property is just that, of course. You’re not supposed to take it. And whether the land is public or private, there is a good chance that the plant in question is protected by law. Both of these considerations aside, think how ugly the roadside would be if everybody did take “just a little” of the things that are attractive.

Legal protection varies from state to state in having laws that forbid cutting, digging up, attacking with herbicide, or in any other way disturbing several classes of plants. In ascending order of worry, the classes are: rare, exploitably vulnerable, threatened, and endangered.

In each class there is a list of dozens of plants, many of them old friends. Among the exploitably vulnerable, which can be defined as “OK for now, but not if people keep picking so many,” are things like winterberry and mountain laurel, Canada lilies and bloodroot, princess pine and all her relatives (the native clubmosses, Lycopodium spp.), as well as most trilliums, and every native orchid.

You can find out what’s protected where you live by calling your state’s department of environmental conservation or by doing a web search for the classes listed above. But between obeying the law and simply being a good neighbor, it’s easier to assume that those roadside beauties are best enjoyed right where they are.

In Wisconsin, you should check with the Department of Natural Resources.


Universally Reviled Pest

Like many parts of the world, we’ve been inundated with mosquitoes this season. Because of the heavy and frequent rainfall we’ve enjoyed, our gardens are beautiful — but the mosquitoes are everywhere! At our summer home, we have plenty of dragonflies and bats helping to control the mosquito population, but it’s a bit harder in the city. Eliminating standing water and moist locations only works to a point when you have foliage acting as a nice hiding place for the critters.

You might enjoy this quiz about mosquitoes: https://wisconsinpollinators.com/Quizes/Q_MosquitoQuiz.aspx

Porcelain Berry

Thanks to OCMGA Volunteer Mike Turner for putting out this warning to all of us in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has identified Porcelain berry as a highly invasive, deciduous, woody, climbing vine in the grape family. It grows well in most soils, and in full sun to partial shade. This plant can kill trees and reduce property values & impact forests. The attached information sheet was created by the DNR as a resource to help gardeners identify and eliminate the threat. Late summer is the best time to deal with this invasive plant as the leaves and berries are easily identified at this time.

Wild Parsnip: Toxic

It’s that time of year again when the fields are dotted with Wild Parsnip (pastinaca sativa), a pretty but dangerous plant. We ran into it the last few days on the edges of a golf course. It looks and smells like a cultivated parsnip; in fact, it is thought that the wild parsnip originated by escaping from a cultivated patch. It can survive a wild range of environments and soil types. Use caution, however, as the leaves, flowers, and stem of parsnip contain a compound in the sap that can cause a chemical burn and blister the skin when exposed to the sun.

Parsnip is an invasive weed that has been categorized as harmful in Germany, France, Britain, and America. The juice in its leaf contains a phototoxic chemical called furocoumarin, which causes skin redness, inflammation, and blisters. The plant is toxic to animals, especially grazing livestock. Ingestion in large quantities will cause poisoning reactions.

We’ve written about this dangerous plant before: https://gardensnips.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/experts-tip-wild-parsnip-what-is-it-and-why-should-we-be-concerned-about-it/

To help identify this plant, watch the video produced by University of Wisconsin Extension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozqdU6_T1uU