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Broccoli Head Queen of the Brassicas

In SoCal’s ‘winter,’ Brassicas reign! 

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Broccoli and cauliflower (and other members of the genus Brassica) contain very high levels of antioxidant and anticancer compounds. These nutrients typically are more concentrated in flower buds than in leaves, and that makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other cole crops. Recent studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may be even higher in important antioxidants than the mature broccoli heads. Other research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli and other Brassicas can protect the eyes against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people. If you choose to eat broccoli leaves, you will find that there is significantly more vitamin A (16,000 IU per 100 grams) versus flower clusters – the heads (3,000 IU per 100 grams) or the stalks (400 IU per 100 grams).

Broccoli vs Kale? Do both!

Broccoli This green veggie made the list of top 10 superfoods, which comes as no surprise. One cup florets contain 20 calories, 2 grams protein, and is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A and C. You’ll also find a touch of almost every other vitamin and mineral in it. Moreover, broccoli is brimming with plant compounds like indoles and isothiocynates, shown to help fight cancer.

In addition to its nutritional goodness, broccoli won’t bust your wallet. It made the top 10 list of healthy foods for under $3.

Kale This popular member of the cabbage family is also packed with good-for-you nutrients. One cup of chopped kale has 33 calories and 2 grams of protein. It has close to seven times the daily recommended dose of vitamin K and over twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium, and a good source of calcium, iron, and folate. Kale contains the plant compound lutein, which has been linked to eye health.

Vegetarians rely heavily on broccoli because it’s high in calcium.

Tasty Image from PlantGrabber.com – Bonanza Hybrid Broccoli

IN YOUR GARDEN….

Companions:  Cilantro makes it grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener! Lettuce amongst the Brassicas confuses Cabbage Moths which dislike Lettuce.

PLANTING!

Broccoli  can be started in the ground from seed late July, August. If you grew transplants, as soon as they are ready, or transplants are available in the nursery, plant them then for sooner heads. Protect with coverings if the weather is hot. At the same time you plant your transplants you can also start seeds. That gives you a second round of plants in succession to keep a steady fresh table supply. Keep planting every one or two months through January. In January, be mindful of the days to maturity per the variety. Think about how you will be wanting space to start your spring for summer plants.

Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting (suddenly making long flower stalks).

Brocs LOVE recently manured ground. Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal. Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability. Brassicas don’t link up with Mycorrhizae Fungi. It won’t hurt them, it just wastes your time and money to use them.

Depending on the variety/ies you choose, seedlings should be 8″-10″ apart with 30″-36″ between the rows. Broccoli yields and the size of broccoli heads are affected by plant spacing. The tighter the spacing the better the yields, but the broccoli heads will be smaller. If you intend to keep your plants for side shoots, plant taller varieties to the northmost so they won’t shade shorter summer plants you will soon be planting.

There is no need to mulch during fall and winter growing, but your Brocs and kale that you may keep over summer are the first plants you will mulch as weather warms! Mulch them deep! They thrive when it’s cooler. Mulch helps keep soil cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition.

An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day.

Put a ring of nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants, to grow bigger heads.

The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. The secondary sprouts produce heads from a 1/2 to 3 inches depending on the variety you choose. Sidedressing can increase yields and size your side shoots.

Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

PESTS

Brocs are truly susceptible to aphids. Yuk. Grayish greenish soft little leggy things that blend right in with the side shoot florettes. If you snap your fingers on the side shoot, you will see the aphids go flying. Those side shoots I remove. If aphids are in curled leaves, I hold the leaf open and hose them away with a strong burst of water! Then I keep my eagle eyes on them, each day, checking to get rid of them before another colony forms.

Often whiteflies follow aphids. Aphids and whiteflies mean ants. ARGENTINE ants prefer sweet baits year-round. Protein baits are attractive to Argentine ants primarily in the spring.  See more Veggie Pests – Aphids and Ants!

Are you finding little, or grr…, big smooth-edged roundish holes in some of your Broccoli and other Brassica leaves? Good chance we’re talking Cabbage Loopers, the fat smooth green caterpillar from those unobtrusive little gray bark-like looking moths, Trichoplusia ni. They can snack a small transplant overnight. If your plant is good size you can out wait them. Mind you, if you have only one or two, and your wild birds are doing their job, this snacking may last only 3 to 4 weeks. Lift up those leaves and find the culprit(s). Toss it/them somewhere where the birds will have a gourmet meal. If there are way too many, then it’s time to go to the nursery for some kind of defender/killer stuff like B.t., Bacillus thuringiensis.  If you eat unsprayed or untreated leaves, the holes are more cosmetic than harmful, no problem. Plant lots of Lettuces between/among your plants! See more at UCSB IPM.

Those pretty little white Cabbage Butterflies? Pieris rapae, Pieris brassicae. They make quite different caterpillars – bristled and spotted, more skinny with lengthwise yellow stripes, only 3/4″ long. We don’t want them either. They feed on the underside of  leaves during their first week, and feed from the topside during their second week. You can see they are harder to catch the first week… Often when they are around, it’s seriously called an infestation. Ruination.

Remove yellowing leaves asap because whiteflies are attracted to yellow. Also, dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing. Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison. A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

Brassicas are susceptible to mildew. Plant them far enough apart per the variety/ies you are planting so there is good air flow. Water no more than they need. Too much water or too much manure make mildew habitat and soft leaves aphids and whiteflies like. Water in mornings at ground level so leaves have time to dry if they get wet.

More on Companion Planting! 

  • Chives, Coriander/Cilantro, Garlic, Geraniums, Lavender, Mint family (caution – invasive), and onions are said to repel aphids.
  • Lettuce repels Cabbage Moths. Plant lots between/among your plants.
  • Mustard and nasturtium can be planted near more valuable plants as traps for aphids. A word to the wise, nasturtiums are snail habitat.
  • Calendula is a trap plant for pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and thrips by exuding a sticky sap that they find more appealing and delicious than nearby crops.
  • Important planting tip: Research shows there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! I’ll bet that works for other plants too!

Good size Packman Broccoli side shoots!

Good size Packman Broccoli side shoots! Compliments Osborne Seed Company

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, some make tons of side shoots, small heads, large heads! For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties. Packman is the exception! It can produce 9″ heads!

Cruiser 58 days to harvest; tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58 – 80 days; Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Does best when transplanted outside mid-spring or late summer. Considered a spring variety.  Disease resistant.
DeCicco 48 to 65 days; Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety. Early, so smaller main heads.
Green Comet 55 days; early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Green Goliath 60 days; heavy producer, tolerant of extremes. Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Nutribud, per Island Seed & Feed, is the most nutritious per studies, having significant amounts of glutamine, one of the energy sources for our brains! Purple broccoli, in addition to this, contains anthocyanins which give it its colour. These have antioxidant effects, which are thought to lower the risk of some cancers and maintain a healthy urinary tract as well.
Packman 53 days; early hybrid, 9” head! Excellent side-shoot production.
Waltham 29 85 days; late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

When it gets late in their season, cut lower foliage off on their sunny side so small summer plants can be started under them while you are still harvesting your winter plants! The days to maturity on seed packs starts with when you put the seed in the soil.  The days to maturity on transplants is from the time of transplant. Broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like DeCicco above. So don’t expect clockwork.

Harvest the main head while the buds are tight! Cut about 5” down the stem so fat side branches and larger side shoots will form. Cut at an angle so water will run off, not settle in the center and rot the central stalk.

The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high, so get it in the fridge asap or it goes limp! It should not be stored with fruits, such as apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds.

Edible Flowers! If you didn’t harvest your side shoots and your broccoli has gone to flower, harvest the flowers and sprinkle them over your salad, toss them in your stir fry for a little peppery flavor! You can get more side shoots, but things will slow down and there comes a time when you pull the plant.

Broccoli Seed SaveSeedSaving! Broccoli must be kept separated from other cole crops by a mile to prevent cross-pollination. That is impossible in a community garden. Better there to buy new seed each year. Another factor to consider is Broccoli are mostly self-infertile. For seedsaving purposes they need to be planted in groups of at least 10 or more. For most of us that isn’t going to happen. Then, you need two years to do it! Broccoli, like all the Brassicas – cabbages, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts – are biennials. So unless you have some extreme weather shifts, and they flower early, you wait overwinter until next spring. If you have an early opportunity to save seeds, lucky you! They are viable 5 years.

If you are in a snow zone, dig up the seed plants at the end of the first growing season if the winter temps in your area fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Replant in pots of sand. Store the sand pots over the winter between 32 and 40 degrees F. Transplant the seed broccoli back to the garden the following spring. Allow the plant to go to seed, or bolt, during the second season.

The seeds are easy to harvest, but get them before the birds do! Poke some holes in a plastic bag. Pop the bag over the drying seed pods and wait until they are entirely dry. Collect the dry seed pods, and still let them dry a week or more off the plant. No moisture, no rotting. In a baggie, rub them between your hands to pop them open to release the seeds.

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a strong steady pace. Top-dress the plants with compost or manure tea; or side-dress with blood-meal or fish emulsion; and water deeply. Repeat this process every 3-4 weeks until just before harvest! John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the world’s record for his 1993 35 lb (no typo) broc! He uses organic methods! And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

11.4.18 Updated

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

 

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Chard, the Bouquet of the Garden

Chard is the bouquet of the Garden! Plant it for pretty! Plant it as a centerpiece, at the front, by the entrance. Contrast it with frillys like carrots or in the spring with dill.

Chard is fabulous in containers on the balcony, mingled with ornamentals in your landscape, and brightens any veggie garden, especially in Mediterranean WINTER gardens! Whether it is all green, a white stemmed Fordhook Giant, or Bright Lights/Neon from white to neon pink, bright oranges and reds, brilliant yellow, it is glorious!

And it’s not just another pretty face, it’s a prodigious producer, Cut-&-Come-Again, and again, and again! In our SoCal clime, it acts as a perennial, sometimes living for several venerable years!  Low calorie, only 35 calories per cup, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6, a valuable food for maintaining strong bones. Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!

According to Aug 2013 HuffPost Kale has a LOT more Vitamin A, twice as much Vitamin C, but Chard has almost 4 times the iron! they are about equal in calories, fiber, protein and Calcium. A different Oct 2017 post says: [Kale] has more than twice the number of calories of collard greens or Swiss chard. Salt is another story. Kale has only 30 micrograms of sodium, whereas Chard has 313! All these counts may make no difference to you, because kale leaves may taste bitter to you, and are tough to chew unless massaged for salads or steamed. Chard is less vegetal in flavor than kale, even the stems can be slightly sweet! And Chard comes in all those dazzling bright colors!

Chard is a lot like Spinach, but has an earthier flavor. Dr Weil says: …concentrations of oxalic acid are pretty low in most plants and plant-based foods, but there’s enough in spinach, chard and beet greens to interfere with the absorption of the calcium these plants also contain. TreeHugger says further: Raw versus cooked spinach offers a trade-off. Vegetarian Times writes that folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium are more available when spinach is eaten raw, cooking increases the vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron – as well, important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, also become more absorbable when spinach is cooked. The advice is eat lots of different veggies both raw and cooked!

Food Values compared Kale Mustard Collard Greens Chard

In a sense, Chard, Beta vulgaris, is a relatively new vegetable that is thought to have first been described in the mid-18th century. It is also known as Swiss chard, silverbeet, spinach beet, and even spinach in different parts of the world. It is in the same family as beets, but doesn’t make a bulb like they do.

Chard is one of the top 5 veggie producers per square foot! It is a fast prolific crop maturing in only 55 days! It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes. Besides being a beauty, having a blazing array of colors, leaf after leaf it feeds a family! Though the colorful hybrids are stunning, and your shopping list is delighted with their magical names, the older green forms tend to out produce them and are more tolerant of both cold and heat. The mammoth white stemmed heirloom Fordhook Giant can’t be beat! It grows up to and more than 2′ tall with huge leaves, and feeds an army, with heavy yields even in hot weather!

Chard may be considered an all season plant in SoCal, but it suffers in heat. It wilts terribly mid day. The problem is heat, not water, and sometimes gardeners literally drown them with water, rotting the root. Either put up some shade cloth, or don’t grow them in summer. After x number of wilts, they never quite recover their full zest and radiance. At the community gardens, there are none left by mid summer. Soon you can be growing it again ~ they thrive and grow quickly in cooler fall weather!

Varieties Cornell lists 49 chard entries!

Five Star ratings go to Burpee’s Rhubarb Chard, Verte a Carde Blanche and Verde da Taglio. Bright Lights is an All America Selection winner! Umania is a Japanese chard that tolerates heat and cold, is slow bolting.

Flat leaved or bumpy?! Bumpy, called Savoyed, leaves give more chard per square inch, but they can also hide aphids. Narrow or wide ribs. Green, crimson or purple leaves! Rib colors galore, from white to neon to the darkest reds!

Chard Purple Leaves Gold Ribs Savoyed.jpg

 

 


You can see why chard is frequently used in flower gardens!

Check out Nan Ondra’s post! She grows a designer quality garden in Pennsylvania! Nan says ‘As the season progresses, the leaves of some of the orange- to red-stemmed chards darken to bronzy green or even a deep purple-red.’

Chard, an amazing array of leaf and rib colors!

 

 

 

 

Do you like that purple one with the yellow rib?! The beauty on the left is Prima Rossa! The cooler the weather the deeper the color!
Chard Perpetual Spinach Scottish heirloom MacGregor

 

Perpetual Spinach varieties and container sorts make leaf after leaf, and behave themselves. Maybe you would like some red leaves and red ribs! Try Scottish heirloom MacGregor Swiss Chard! It does not get colossal, is more tender than other chards. Pot of Gold, green leaves with yellow ribs, is also a charming dwarf variety!x

Grow It!

28 Days for tender little leaves, only 55 days or so to maturity.

Chard likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added. It is sensitive to soil acidity. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. Consistent water, full sun, and plenty of space! A healthy chard, will take a 2′ to 3′ footprint, more if it is a Fordhook Giant! At 28” tall, it makes a shadow, so plant accordingly!

Soak seeds overnight or presprout! Direct seed into the garden 3-5 weeks before the last frost date, or you can start seedlings indoors around the same time. Transplant seedlings after your last frost. Chard seeds germinate best in soil temps around 75°F-85°F (not air temps) but 50°-55°degrees will do, and is practical. Avoid seeding during daytime air temps of 80°F or more. In SoCal, one of the best times to plant is mid August for production all winter long. Plant then in the shade, on the north or east sides, of taller plants that will be replaced by fall plants or will finish soon. Chard seeds don’t mind those hot August soil temps, but Chard plants here do best in cool weather, wilting pitifully midday in hot summer temps. Check your soil to see your plant really needs water or is reacting to the heat.

Germination will take 5-16 days. Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds and will produce more than one plant. Spacing will determine the size of the plants. Space plants at 4″-6′ apart within rows spaced at 18″-24″ apart. When the young plants are 4 inches high, thin them to stand 8 inches apart. If you are pest and disease conscious, keep right on thinning so adult leaves don’t touch each other! That, of course, depends on the size of the variety you pick.

Depending on your space and needs/wants, avoid planting in rows, plant far enough apart that mature leaves don’t touch leaves of another chard plant. Interplant here and there. That way Leafminers, aphids and diseases can’t go plant to plant. if you have space, you can broadcast your seeds in sections of the garden to create a bed of tender leaves and thinned to 4 inches apart as they mature. Otherwise, plant your seeds 1/4-3/4 in. deep. That will give you a steady table supply of tasty little greens!

Mulch in summer keeps roots cool and moist. In So Cal winters it keeps rain or watering from splashing soil up onto the leaves.

Water! Chard, like Lettuce, likes plenty of water regularly to keep it sweet. It’s putting up big leaves again and again. Weed early and often!

Feeding! Since Chard is a prolific producer, it needs feeding from time to time. In summer it can use a little compost and a tad of manure. Some worm castings would make it even happier! Late summer spread a little compost over the root zone, drench with a water-soluble organic fertilizer. They will make a strong comeback early fall. In winter a light feed of fish emulsion is easy to apply, and easy for it to uptake.

Pests & Diseases

  • Hose APHIDS off Chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed, and new generations. For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard and in crinkly kale leaf crevices, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns. I tried this home remedy, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too! If the aphids are totally out of control and you can’t get to them down in the center of the plant, if you are very brave, cut the whole plant off a couple inches above the crown, let it produce new leaves.
  • Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets, going from plant to plant. These are not plants to row crop! You know you have leafminers when you see their trails or brown patches on the leaves as the miners burrow between the leaf’s layers. Remove those sections and badly infested leaves immediately. Keep your chard harvested. Harvest while the leaves are fresh and a bit smaller before the leafminers get to it!  Some say soft fast growth is perfect habitat for the miners, but chard is meant to be a fast grower with plenty of water to keep it sweet! So if you can’t eat it all, find a friend or two who would appreciate some and share your bounty! Or remove plants until you have what you can keep up with.  Plant something else delicious in your new free space!
    x
    Details from U of Illinois Extension:  Spinach and Swiss chard leafminer flies are 1/2 inch long and gray with black bristles. This leaf miner lay eggs on the underside of the leaves side by side singly or in batches up to five.  One larva may feed on more than one leaf.  After feeding for about two weeks, the larvae drop from the leaves onto the ground where it pupates and overwinters in the soil as pupae. In spring, they appear from mid April to May and they cause serious damage compared to the other generations that appear later. The life cycle is only 2 weeks long, and they can have five to ten generations per year!  That’s why you immediately want to remove infected parts of your plant, to stop the cycle! Cornell Cooperative Extension  UC – IPM
  • Slugs & snails are chard’s other not best friends. Irregular holes in the leaves, that’s the clue. Remove by hand, checking the undersides of leaves and down in the center area where new leaves are coming. I chuck snails and slugs where our crows gourmet on them. Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand in the cardboard box of the same stuff. Lay down Sluggo two or three times to kill the generations then you won’t need to do it again for quite awhile.
  • Beets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot, light brown patches surrounded by purple halos. Promptly remove infected leaves. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is carried by wind or rain to host leaves. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! Planting only every 3 years in the same spot often isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more

Harvest & Storage

Cut or twist off stems of outer leaves while still tender, 1-2 inches above the soil surface. Leaves are of best quality just when fully expanded or slightly smaller. Chard loses water very quickly after harvest, so give it a rinse, shake off excess water, pack loosely in a plastic bag, get it into the fridge. Use ASAP, 3-4 days! Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. Blanch and freeze leaves if you like; use in soups and stews later.

Chard seeds look exactly like Beet seeds!Like other biennial plants, chard produces flowers and seeds in the spring of its second year, after it has been through winter. Let your favorite chard make a flowering stalk, seed and dry. Label it before it starts drying so you know what color or variety it is. The seed is super easy to harvest. Just hold your fingers close to the stalk, zip them along the stalk and put the seed in an airtight container. Label it right then and there because you can’t tell chard seed from beet seed! Same family. If you want that variety of colors, and don’t have room or the time to let all of them seed out, just get a packet at your local nursery or online from your favorite seed house. Keep your seeds cool and dry, viability 3+ years. Harvest plenty for you, gifts for friends, seed swaps!

Culinary Satisfaction

When preparing your chard, if you are eating it for the Vitamin A, trim the leaf from the rib. You can eat the rib, it just takes a little longer to cook unless you chop it up into little pieces. Ribs have healing factors all their own due to their colors! Here’s a surprise – use stems like celery! Stuff and serve! Or pickle them, or the crisp ribs can be steamed or grilled like asparagus!

Small leaves in salad, drizzle with a sauce or dressing of your choice. Larger leaves chopped, steamed over rice or in stews. Toss with olive oil and stir fry with your favorite veggies and protein. Layer in lasagna or a casserole of scalloped potatoes or turnips. Everyone has their favorites! Deb Elliott of Helena AL loves hers in chard soup, beginning with chicken bouillon, Italian sausage, onions and little red potatoes. Chopped chard leaves are added toward the end, as it only takes a few minutes for them to cook.

Chard can be used as a substitute for spinach in most dishes and goes well with roasted meats, cream sauces, nutty cheeses, and tomatoes. Try adding chard to au gratin or serving it alongside Jamaican Jerk chicken with red beans and rice. Squeeze out excess water, and use the cooked chard in casseroles, quiches, or as a succulent side dish.

Or try this Vegetarian Stuffed Chard Oregon Style from Organic Authority!

Chard Stuffed Oregon Style, Scandinavian Recipe

Cabbage is substituted by chard in this Pacific Northwestern version of a Scandinavian recipe. Light, nutritious and deliciously healthy, the chard leaves are stuffed with a grain of choice alongside Oregonian staples like hazelnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese and late summer veggies for a satisfying and wholesome dish. The red, pink, white and yellow veins of rainbow chard leaves are an excellent choice for this chard recipe, especially if you are looking for visual appeal. Serve it as a main vegetarian dish with a side of yogurt sauce, homemade chutney or lemons wedges, or make smaller ones to serve as pop-in-your-mouth appetizers.

Serves 3-5

Happy growing, happy eating!


Updated 9.26.18

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Broccoli! Beautiful and valuable to your health!

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Broccoli and cauliflower (and other members of the genus Brassica) contain very high levels of antioxidant and anticancer compounds. These  nutrients typically are more concentrated in flower buds than in leaves, and that makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other cole crops. Recent studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may be even higher in important antioxidants than the mature broccoli heads. Other research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli and other Brassicas can protect the eyes against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people.  If you choose to eat broccoli leaves, you will find that there is significantly more vitamin A (16,000 IU per 100 grams) versus flower clusters – the heads (3,000 IU per 100 grams) or the stalks (400 IU per 100 grams).

Vegetarians rely heavily on broccoli because it’s high in calcium.

Tasty Image from PlantGrabber.com – Bonanza Hybrid Broccoli

IN YOUR GARDEN….

  • Companions:  Cilantro makes it grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!  Lettuce amongst the Brassicas confuses Cabbage Moths which dislike Lettuce.
  • Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting (suddenly making long flower stalks).
  • Brocs LOVE recently manured ground.  Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal.  Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability.
  • Seedlings should be 8″-10″ apart with 30″-36″ between the rows.  Broccoli yields and the size of broccoli heads are affected by plant spacing. The tighter the spacing the better the yields, but the broccoli heads will be smaller. If you intend to keep your plants for side shoots, plant taller varieties to the northmost so they won’t shade shorter summer plants you will soon be planting.
  • Mulch will help keep the ground cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition.
  • An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day.
  • Put a ring of nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants, to grow bigger heads.
  • The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. The secondary sprouts produce heads about the size of a silver dollar. Sidedressing with fertilizer can increase yields and size your side shoots.
  • Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

Brocs are truly susceptible to aphids.  Yuk.  Grayish greenish soft little leggy things that blend right in with the side shoot florettes.  If you snap your fingers on the side shoot, you will see the aphids go flying.  Those side shoots I remove.  If aphids are in curled leaves, I hold the leaf open and hose them away with a strong burst of water!  Then I keep my eagle eyes on them, each day, checking to get rid of them before another colony forms.

Important planting tip: There are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, some make tons of side shoots, small heads, large heads!  For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties.  Packman is the exception!

Cruiser 58 days to harvest; tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58 – 80 days; Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Does best when transplanted outside mid-spring or late summer.  Considered a spring variety.  Disease resistant.
DeCicco 48 to 65 days; Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.
Green Comet 55 days; early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Green Goliath 60 days; heavy producer, tolerant of extremes.  Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Nutribud, per Island Seed & Feed, is the most nutritious per studies, having significant amounts of glutamine, one of the energy sources for our brains!  Purple broccoli, in addition to this, contains anthocyanins which give it its colour. These have antioxidant effects, which are thought to lower the risk of some cancers and maintain a healthy urinary tract as well.
Packman 53 days; early hybrid, 9” head!  Excellent side-shoot production.
Waltham 29 85 days; late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

If you still want to plant broccoli now, January, be mindful of the days to maturity, and when you think you will be wanting space to start your spring for summer plants.  When it gets late in their season, cut lower foliage off so small summer plants can start under them while you are still harvesting your winter plants.  The days to maturity on seed packs starts with when you put the seed in the soil.  The days to maturity on transplants is from the time of transplant.  And broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like DeCicco above.  So don’t expect clockwork.

Harvest the main head while the buds are tight!  Cut about 5” down the stem so fat side branches and larger side shoots will form.  Cut at an angle so water will run off, not settle in the center and rot the central stalk.

The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high, so get it in the fridge asap or it goes limp!  It should not be stored with fruits, such as apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds.

Dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing.  Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison.  A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

If you didn’t harvest your side shoots and your broccoli has gone to flower, harvest the flowers and sprinkle them over your salad, toss them in your stir fry for a little peppery flavor!  You won’t get any more side shoots, but if you want seeds, leave the flowers, let the seeds come.  Fine long little pods will form.  Let them stay on the plant until dry, then harvest your seeds.  Pop the pods, remove the seeds so no moisture will remain to rot them.  This large species crosses easily though, so probably best to buy sure seeds unless you don’t mind mystery results!

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a strong steady pace. Top-dress the plants with compost or manure tea; or side-dress with blood-meal or fish emulsion; and water deeply. Repeat this process every 3-4 weeks until just before harvest!  John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the world’s record for his 1993 35 lb (no typo) broc!  He uses organic methods, including mycorrhizal fungi!  And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

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Tomatoes, Fusarium Wilt, and Dandelion, a Virtuous Plant!

Dandelion, Diente de Lion

Dandelion, Diente De Lion!

Canadian researchers have discovered that the dandelion weed can protect tomato plants from fusarium disease.  Fusarium attacks the plant roots.  It reduces the number of tomatoes that the plant produces.  Dandelion roots produce cichoric acid.  This acid prevents the disease from getting iron from the soil.  Fusarium needs iron to survive.

Plus, dandelion greens have superior nutritional and medicinal properties, 4 times the Vitamin A in spinach, in fact, the highest of all greens!  The cultivated dandelion variety, Taraxacum officinale, is said to be far superior to the rest in taste!  It has broad upright leaves that seem to multiply in great stands right before your eyes.  These dandelions like rich, moist soil.  Commercial varieties include Thick Leaf, Improved Thick Leaf, and Arlington Thick Leaf. Most American dandelion growers cultivate San Pasquale and Catalogn chicories, but call them dandelion greens, which are similar.  Oh, and after a frost, their protective bitterness disappears.

Wild Man Steve Brill says:  ‘The leaves are more nutritious than anything you can buy. They’re higher in beta-carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium [more than milk!] content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.’  Low in calories, a terrific liver cleanser, people have eaten dandelions for centuries. The name comes from the French, who called them dent de lion, or “lion’s teeth” because of their sharp, serrated leaves. All parts of the dandelion are edible, but the youngest leaves, less bitter before blooms form, are most commonly eaten, in salads, sautéed or steamed.  Drizzle with a deliciously tangy vinaigrette made of honey, Dijon mustard, orange juice, and fresh rosemary.  Or toss with garlic, olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper, or with bacon fat (pancetta if you prefer) and a little wine vinegar.  Island Seed & Feed has some seeds!

Do know that many weeds, including dandelions and lambsquarters, are known to host verticillium wilt. Remove them when your crops are done. Don’t let them overwinter or leave them lying about.

More Tomato Tips! 

Buy toms that are tagged VFN, or just VF – that’s Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium resistant.  When they are about a foot tall, water their neighboring plants, but not them.  That keeps a drier soil the fungi can’t thrive in.  Once a plant has the diseases, the leaves curl lengthwise and black spots appear on the lower stems and leaves, pull it and start over.  Months of lost production time and poor production are not worth it.  If your plant gets diseased, but is producing and you decide to keep it, don’t prune out the suckers (the little branches that are between the main stalk and a branch) because blight can enter your plant through these cuts.  For more pollination, tap your stakes and cages, or the main stalk, to shake the flowers – around 11 AM is best!  If your toms aren’t well pollinated, they may be strangely shaped!  Plant different kinds of toms apart from each other so 1) they don’t hybridize on the spot 2) the wilts don’t spread from one plant to the next.  Since toms are true heat lovers, you can plant a U perimeter of tall plants, leaving the South side open, and plant your toms in the U!  Water those neighbor plants, not the toms directly, regularly, so your tomato’s tap root can get regular water.  That prevents blossom-end rot.

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