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Broccoli Head Queen of the Brassicas

In SoCal’s ‘winter,’ Brassicas reign! 

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

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.

FANTASTIC VARIETIES!

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 quickly produce 9″ heads! Brocs come in green or purple!

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. Plentiful 3″+ side shoot mini heads!
Green Goliath 60 days; heavy producer, tolerant of extremes. Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Nutribud 80 days; per Island Seed & Feed, is the most nutritious per studies, having significant amounts of glutamine, one of the energy sources for our brains! Not the largest heads and it doesn’t like hot weather.
Packman 53 days; early hybrid, 9” head! Excellent side-shoot production.
Purple broccoli 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.
Waltham 29 85 days; late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

Baby Broccoli Variety Artwork F1 2015 AAS Winner!

Rather than the headers then side shoots, try Baby Broccoli! Here is Broccoli Artwork F1 the 2015 AAS – All-America Selections’ Edible – Vegetable Winner! They say ‘Artwork is a unique and beautiful dark green stem broccoli that has only recently become available to home gardeners. Previously, stem or baby broccoli was exclusively available in gourmet markets and upscale restaurants. Now home gardeners can make the art of gardening come alive with this delicious, long-yielding variety.

Artwork starts out similar to a regular crown broccoli but after harvesting that first crown, easy-to-harvest tender, and tasty side shoots continue to appear long into the season, resisting warm temperature bolting better than other stem broccolis currently on the market.’ See if it lives up to their review for you!

Purple Broccoli and Romanesco Fractals, a Hybrid with Cauliflower

Left: Purple Broccoli, aka broccoli of Sicily! Same as regular broccoli, just purple. Gorgeous! When cooked, it reverts to green, so eat it raw for the color!

Right: Amazing Romanesco fractal hybrid of traditional broccoli and cauliflower. First documented in Italy.

Super Productive Purple Sprouting Broccoli!  Broccoli Rabe is quite Bitter but compliments other rich foods!

Left: Outrageous Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli Red Fire F1! Look at all those side sprouts!

Right: What’s Broccoli Rabe? Pronounced like “Rob,” it is NOT a Broccoli! Bon Appetit says ‘It’s actually more closely related to a turnip, even though it has those little buds, similar to those found on broccoli florets.’ And it’s b i t t e r ! Good in combo with fat sweet rich foods!

Another hybrid! Broccolini or baby broccoli is a green vegetable similar to broccoli but with smaller florets and longer, thin stalks. It is a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan, both cultivar groups of Brassica oleracea.

IN YOUR SoCal GARDEN….

♦ 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.

Brassicas don’t link up with Mycorrhizae Fungi. It won’t hurt them. It just wastes your time and money to use them.

  • 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.
  • 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 north most 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 to the drip line 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 the size of your side shoots.
  • Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

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.

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, foliar feed with 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!

Allow Space for Wise Companion Planting! And plant companions before your crop so the companions can help your main crop immediately.

Cilantro is #1! It makes it grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!
Lettuce amongst the Brassicas confuses Cabbage Moths which dislike Lettuce.
Chives, Coriander, Garlic, Geraniums, Lavender, Mint family (caution – invasive), and onions are said to repel aphids.
Mustard and Nasturtium can be planted near more valuable plants as traps for aphids. A word to the wise, in some areas 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.

PESTS & DISEASES

Brocs are truly susceptible to aphids. Yuk. Black, 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. Sprinkle cinnamon around your plants stem to repel the ants that care for the aphids. Sprinkle again after watering until the ants are gone.

Important planting tip: Research shows there are less aphids when you intermingle different varieties of brocs together!

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!

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 airflow. 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.

HARVESTING

With traditional varieties, 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.

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!

Broccoli Seed Pods  Broccoli Seeds

SeedSaving! 

Broccoli must be kept separated from other cole crops by a mile to prevent cross-pollination. That is impossible in community gardens of lesser size. 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.

If your plants are that mile or more apart from others they would hybridize with, and you want seeds, leave the flowers, let the seed pods come. Let them stay on the plant until dry. Keep a close watch. When the birds first start after them you know they are ready. Or poke some holes in a plastic bag. Pop the bag over the drying seed pods and wait until they are entirely dry. Harvest your pods. Maybe leave some for late winter food for the birds. Let them dry further, 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. Store in a glass jar out of sunlight. 

NUTRITIOUS FEASTING!

Broccoli is an absolutely delicious and nutritious food, especially those sprouts! 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 – like Kale. 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 Sprouts by Getty

There are so many ways to eat Broccoli! Sprouts! Fresh and simple in a mixed salad with thin almond slices and your favorite dressing. Fresh bits & dip! Steamed, drizzled with olive oil and a touch of squeezed lemon! Quiche, omelets, frittata. Broc pesto. Sweet & spicy stir fry with other tasties. Garlic roasted for trail treats and snacks for the kids. Commingled with feta in a bow tie pasta dish; alfredo. Broc & cheddar soup on an extra cool day. Baked potato casserole with ALL the trimmings! Tasty with rice and tofu, a sprinkle of soy sauce. Try in a Butternut squash curry. On Pizza! Details at The Kitchen!

To your happy gardening and healthy living! 

11.4.18, 7.30.19 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.

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

 

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