Garden to Table: Broccoli
In popular culture, broccoli is often associated with duty. Eating your broccoli is like taking your medicine. You do it because you should, not because you want to. It is true that broccoli is mightily good for you. It’s a solid source of protein, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium, as well as a provider of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, potassium and manganese. Broccoli is credited with benefiting the nervous system, immune system, circulatory system, skeletal system and preventing cancer — among other things.
Though broccoli is abstractly imbued with a sense of obligation, when we come face to face with eaters at farmers’ markets and CSA drops, we find that broccoli is a beloved bundle of deliciousness greeted with ooohs and ahhhs and even enthusiastic hording. Broccoli, another member of the highly productive cruciferous family, is the flower of the cabbage. When well prepared, it’s crunchy, bright, complex and uniquely flavorsome. A gift to the United States from Italian immigrants, it’s hard to believe that broccoli only became popular here in the early 20th century. Now the U.S. is the third largest producer in the world, just behind China and India, broccoli, as with most every vegetable, is best (and surprisingly sweet) when just harvested from your own garden. If you don’t have the space to grow it, your next best bet is your local organic farmers’ market. Whether you love broccoli with a passion, or hold your nose and choke it down, you owe it to yourself to try it fresh from the garden, when it becomes a revelation.—Joe & Judith
De Cicco, Belstar, Gypsy, Blue Wind, Calabrese, Happy Rich
What I’m Wearing
To a grower, broccoli appears to be an overly dressed crop, with its tall, bushy nature and large oblong leaves. However, almost magically, this overcoat peeled back reveals a lobed, multi-faceted crown of absolute intrigue.
With its sweet high notes and sulfurous body, broccoli might be the perfect vegetable. Harvested fresh and cooked gently, it has an incredibly complimentary crunchy and creamy texture.
How to Grow
• We start with young plants seeded into trays in the greenhouse about 4-6 weeks before transplanting. In the last few years, we have moved to seeding cruciferous vegetables into larger seed cells to give us a bigger, more mature root system for each transplant.
• Young seedlings are planted 12-18” between other plants in the row and 30-36” between rows. Broccoli plants are notorious for growing larger than one expects.
• Broccoli, like all cruciferous vegetables, has a high nitrogen fertility requirement. We amend the soil with additional nitrogen by broadcasting alfalfa meal, feather meal, and/or blood meal. Additional nitrogen and micronutrients can be delivered by watering with fish emulsion from sea fish.
• Timing is everything with a broccoli crop. Pay close attention to the number of days to harvest on the seed packet and scout your plants often. Here in the South, we have a tight spring and fall window for planting broccoli, with the exception of flowering broccoli such as Happy Rich, before the heat causes the plants to button up flower heads prematurely.
• This year we had an abundance of lepidopteran larvae, such as the cabbage looper. These caterpillars can chew up the leaves of your young plants quickly. We use floating row cover to shield our young broccoli crop, but if an infestation occurs, you can use BT, or bacillus thuringiensis. This bacterium affects the digestion of certain caterpillars.
• Watch your broccoli crowns closely once they emerge. You’ll want to harvest them full-sized, but before the buds on the crown begin to open. Most varieties produce additional side shoots for a longer harvesting season.