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Broccoli, the Queen of Brassicas! Rancheria Community Garden Dec 2016

Radiant Calabrese Broccoli, Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA Dec 2016!

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Researchers have reported that cruciferous vegetables contain potent natural anti-cancer agents if eaten rawThese 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).

They are also high in vitamin C, which may protect against atherosclerosis.  Four ounces of RAW broccoli contains twice the vitamin C in an equivalent amount of reconstituted orange juice. Cooking halves the amount of this vitamin.

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

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, English HeirloomVARIETIES

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, have small heads, large heads, some make tons of side shoots, others less! For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties. They come in Green or purple! Purples turn green or blue when cooked. At left is an Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, a beautiful English Heirloom producing like crazy!

Besides regular brocs, there are fancies like Romanesco that grows in a spiral! It’s taste is mild and more like cauliflower than broccoli. Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks. Broccoli Raab, aka Rapini, is fast-growing, also known as turnip broccoli, forms multiple small heads and tends to branch out.

Some favorite varieties:

DeCicco 48-65 days – Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.
Packman 53 days – early hybrid, 9” head! Excellent side-shoot production.
Green Comet 55 days – early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Nutribud 55-70 days – is unusually high in free glutamine which is one of the building blocks of protein, a primary energy source of the brain and a major healing nutrient! 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.
Cruiser 58 days – tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58-90 days – Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Disease resistant.
Green Goliath 60 days – heavy producer, tolerant of extremes. Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Waltham 29  85 days – medium heads, late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

Broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like Calabrese above. So don’t expect clockwork. The advantage is they don’t come in all at once and you have table supply for an extended period, especially if you plant different varieties at the same time. After the main head is harvested, you will have an abundant supply of side shoots which will further extend your harvest time. Some varieties even produce mini side shoots at the same time as the main head!

Companion Plants Broccoli Lettuce repel Cabbage MothTasty image from GrowVeg!

COMPANIONS

Plant Lettuce amongst the Brassicas to repel cabbage moths. In hot summer, big brocs shelter and shade delicate lettuces. When it isn’t hot, put smaller companions on the sunny side of your brocs. Cut lower foliage off so they get sun. Mint nearby deters cabbage moths from laying eggs. Since mint is invasive, plant it in containers.

Cilantro makes broccoli grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

To deter pests plant Onion family, plant Chamomile, Aromatic herbs, especially Catmint, Hyssop, Mint, Dill, Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Balm. Plant your herbs in containers so they can be moved around during the year to help specific seasonal plants.

Generally brocs are happy with Basil, Beans, Beets, Celery, Chard, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigold, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Potato,  Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tomato

Not happy with Tomatoes?, strawberry, lettuce?!, bush & pole beans.

In summer, plant cucumbers under them to reduce the attraction of striped cucumber beetles to the cukes.

Radish reduces green peach aphids.

Be advised! 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, so plant lettuces from transplants under them. A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

PLANTING

Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting, but if they don’t get enough sun they will just grow tall. More sun helps make a tougher plant less attractive to aphids.

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. Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli. They LOVE recently manured ground.

If you will be planting by seed, per Cornell, best germination temperature is 45 F to 85 F, but will germinate at soil temps as low as 40 F.

Though those are best temps, in SoCal, if there are no Bagrada Bugs, fall plantings are started late July. While there is little space for big winter plants, small nursery patches can be planted. Leave enough room between seedlings so you can get your trowel in to lift them out to transplant later when space becomes available. If seeds and nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery has transplants! If we aren’t having a heatwave, late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners. October is just fine too!

Successive plantings may be done all winter long. If brocs are a favorite, the last round is usually planted in January because spring brings the interest in summer plants and we need room for them! We need space to amend soil for the next plantings, and time to let it settle and for the soil organisms to establish and flourish. The weather shifts, our body shifts with the seasons and we are looking forward to those summer treats again!

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 plant later on. Plant for plenty of air circulation to help avoid mildew.

The number of plants you choose to grow depends on your needs. If Broccoli is a staple for you, plant plenty so after the main heads are taken, you will get enough side shoots. When you need space for summer crops, and as other crops come in, you may decide to keep only 1 or 2 plants for side shoots to garnish your summer salads.

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

MAINTENANCE, IRRIGATION/MULCH

For year ’round growers, mulch early in spring to keep the ground cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition. In cool moist areas, forget the mulch. It brings slugs.

An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become well established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day. When they get up to about a foot tall, lay back on the water so the leaves aren’t too soft, attract aphids.

Compost/Fertilizer Put a ring of granular nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants for bigger heads.

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a 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.

PESTS & DISEASES

Pests

Research shows there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! The plants mature at different rates. Aphids usually mean too soft a plant. Less feeding, less water. Immediately check curled leaves. Spray them away with a vigorous stream of water every day until gone, taking special care where new leaves are forming. Check the undersides of the leaves too. If the aphids have infested side shoots, remove the shoots. Some recommend sprinkling cinnamon on the ground to dissuade the ants that tend the aphids.

Cutworms, Flea Beetles, and Diamond Back Moth.

The nemesis is the green looper! This cabbage caterpillar makes your plants holey faster than thou can believe! Get Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis. It is sold in nurseries as Thuricide, Dipel, Bactus, Biological Worm Control, Leptox, SOK, Novabac or Tribacture.

Diseases

Club Root, Black Rot, Black Leg, Wirestem, Alternaria Leaf Spot, and Downy Mildew

Immediately when you plant your transplants, treat for mildew. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

Small or no heads? Weather can be the culprit. Per Bonnie Plants, “If transplants sit exposed to cold below 40 degrees for a week or two, the chilling injury triggers heads to form way too early.” A small head on a small plant means you won’t get a large head. A head may not form If the growing tip is injured by rough handling, insects or weather. Your broc is considered to have gone ‘blind.’ If you have enough growing season time left, start over with a transplant if possible.

HARVEST

Potentially you have five kinds of harvests! Leaves, heads, side shoots, flowers, seeds! Leaves are edible, same as collards!

The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. Harvest the main head while the buds are tight!  Broccoli heads should not have any yellow petals. 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.

Side heads will develop rapidly in some varieties after the main head has been harvested, some even before! Harvesting of the broccoli side heads may continue for several weeks or all summer! Side shoot heads are 1 to 3″ in diameter. Sidedressing with fertilizer can increase yields and size of these sprout shoots.

Broccoli is highly perishable. The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high. Harvest it last, and get it into the fridge asap before it goes limp! Broccoli should not be stored with apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds. Freeze what you won’t use right away.

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! Hold the stalk with one hand, zip your other hand along the stalk to gather the beautiful flowers! Clip off stalks you don’t need and you will likely get more side shoots!

Broccoli Seed SaveSAVING SEEDS

All varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. Because Brassicas are biennial, two year plants, plants to be left for seed production, if in cold climates, should be mulched in the fall or carefully dug, trimmed and stored for the winter in a humid area with temperatures between 35-40° F. In SoCal they can be left in the ground to overwinter. Flowering plants can reach 4′ in height and need at least 2′ to 3′ spacing, depending on the size of the variety, for good seed production.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi grown for seed should not be trimmed for consumption. Brussels sprouts, collards and kale can be lightly trimmed for eating without affecting quality seed production. If small amounts of seeds are wanted, allow the fine little pods to dry to a light brown color before picking and opening by hand. Lower pods dry first followed by those progressively higher on the plant. Watch daily to get them before the birds do, or cover the plant with bird netting! For larger amounts of seeds pull the entire plant after a majority of pods have dried. Green pods rarely produce viable seeds even if allowed to dry after the plant is pulled.

Crush unopened pods in a cloth bag with a mallet or by walking on them. Chaff can be winnowed. Remove the seeds so no moisture will remain to rot them.

Viability  2 – 3 years, but up to 5 years in good cool and dry storage conditions.

CULINARY TREATS!

Broccoli is a popular raw hors d’œuvre vegetable for good reason! That is when it is most nutritious! Light and quick steaming is second best.

All Brassica leaves can be eaten the same as collard leaves! Steamed over rice, or toss in a wok with oil, sprinkled with soy sauce or a sauce of your choice. Dr. Amy Simmone, University of Florida Food Safety Specialist and native of Thailand, states that in her country broccoli leaves are stir-fried or sautéed with garlic and oyster sauce and served with rice. She says that broccoli leaves taste a bit like young tender collard greens.

Use to top pastas or even pizzas! Broccoli along with almonds makes a delish creamy soup. Cheese and Broccoli Quiche!

Broccoli Bright Beautiful Edible FlowersThe top portion of broccoli is actually flower buds. Given time each will burst into a bright beautiful yellow flower, which is why they are called florets. The small yellow edible flowers have a mild spiciness, mild broccoli flavor. They are quite pretty and terrific sprinkled on salads, and are delicious in a stir-fry or steamer.

Tarladalal of India says: Combine broccoli, baby corn, spinach and other vegetables of your choice, cook in a thick creamy white sauce or red sauce. Pour in a baking dish, garnish with cheese and bake to make au gratins. You can also use as lasagna sheets in this recipe.

Broccoli has been with us in the US since 1923, when two Italian brothers planted the first crop near San Jose, California. John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the 1993 world’s record for his 35 lb (no typo) broc!  He uses organic methods, including mycorrhizal fungi!  And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area 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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