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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Lesson from the Broccoli

Late in the season, broccoli wants to
go to seed.
If you have ever grown broccoli, you have likely seen its habit, once you have harvested the main head, of sending up small shoots from axillary buds (if you are not a botanist, that would be just above where the leaves attach to the stems). Those small shoots, sometimes sold under the trademarked name of "broccolini" are just as good to eat and the main head and I have many bags of them in the freezer this year. it was a great year for broccoli. 

As the plant continues to mature, the longer it grows, it appears to use up energy. After all, the more leaves there are, the more node there are and the more shoots! Picking them can become a long exercise for diminishing returns, so we let them go. At first it was due to overwork. "They can be cultivated back into the soil later," I though. Then I discovered the neighborhood bees busily working the abundant yellow blossoms. You do know that each of those tiny buds in your broccoli head would, if left alone, become a flower, I hope! So benign neglect turned into a benevolent act: feeding the bees.

Then the autumn turned colder, the ground often sported a cover of frost in the early morning and, it seemed, the bees had gone home for the winter and the plant growth stopped. I had dug all the potatoes earlier and was working on the carrots and beets when I got pulled indoors by a long-standing yearly design project. When I retired from the graphic design community, I bade a fond (or sometimes not so fond) farewell to my group of clients, except for one. One of my best friends is the director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center on Harkers Island, NC and while I was living in North Carolina, I enjoyed working with my friend and the museum in a variety of capacities. After I moved to Maine, my involvement had to be limited to telecommuting projects and eventually settled into the design and layout of the museum's annual yearbook. This 64 page (or longer) book tells the story, in words and pictures, of what the folks "at the end of the road" have been up to for the past year and gives an insight into future plans. It is a big project, and we burn the electrons into the wee hours, usually in an intense 2 week marathon of collaboration. It's a crazy time, with two flat-out intense women sending files back and forth and pushing the deadline to the bitter end. So, yeah, the garden was taking a decided back seat.

The other tasks of running a museum must still go on in North Carolina, though, and my getting to the real world outside my window and getting my hands dirty is what keeps me sane, so when I could take breaks from pixel-pushing, and it was daylight, I got out to do a bit of mowing, mulching, and such like.
young broccoli heads; the shoots
were not this big, but still
worth picking!
Yesterday my little garden project was to collect tomato cages and stakes and to attempt to dig a couple of parsley plants to bring indoors. While walking to the parsley, I went by the thoroughly bolted and flowering broccoli and was surprised to look down and see, down low on the plant, almost hidden by the branches full of flowers, both spent and still freshly blooming, a decent size little shoot! And another one, and another... and one on the next plant too!

I started walking the row, looking carefully, hoping to find amongst the many smaller shoots that were already starting to bloom, enough for a side dish with supper. I didn't have a picking basket (who would have expected to be picking -- unless you were digging roots or havesting kale or collards -- nearly at the middle of November! I figured making an pouch from my sweatshirt would suffice, though it almost didn't, there were THAT many! I harvested a good meal and some to freeze, and while I was picking, I heard and then saw, once again, some of those busy bees!

It occurred to me that there was a lesson here, from the "little broccoli that could": even when those around you give up on you, you do not have to give up on yourself.

As I realized this, I thought "Ain't nature amazing?" Mother Nature (or maybe her broccoli and bees) did tell me to remind you that YOU are a part of nature too, and you, too, are amazing when you let it happen.