I am sure you have heard how nutritional broccoli is for you. It has massive amounts of vitamin A, for starters. Then it has large amounts of folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamin C and beta carotene. There are also a good amount of fiber and phytochemicals, specifically diindolylmethane and selenium.
Broccoli is a relatively easy vegetable to grow. Broccoli is from the cabbage family, it comes from the species Brassica oleracea. The family used to be referred to as theCruciferae family. The reason it was called this is because the flowers look like crosses. Many botanists still stick to this classification.
Wild cabbage and broccoli are from the same family. Thousands of years ago broccoli became domesticated along the western and northern coasts of the Mediterranean. In this area not only was broccoli bred but different cultivars such as kale, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower were all domesticated.
Pliney the Elder a Roman natural history writer wrote about broccoli in the cookbook of Apicius.
Broccoli was eaten in Italy before it was eaten in many other parts of the country. Broccoli came to England in 1560 and in 1724 the Philip Miller’s Gardener’s
Dictionary called it “sprout coli-flower”. or “Italian asparagus” . Thomas Jefferson did a seed exchange with some European gardeners for some broccoli seeds. He exchanged tomato seeds for broccoli in which he stated “”The stems will eat like Asparagus, and the heads like Cauliflower.”
Commercial planting of broccoli in the U.S. was first done by two brothers, Stephano and Andrea D’Arrigo, who were immigrants from Messina, Italy . They lived in San Jose, California in 1922 and made plantings of broccoli. They made their first shipment of a few crates to Boston where there was a large Italian immigrant culture. The broccoli business was named “Andy Boy” after Stephano’s 2 year old son. The broccoli business took off.
Growing broccoli can be a fun and rewarding vegetable. Broccoli is a cut and come again vegetable. You cut the main head off and shoots just keep coming. There are four main varieties of broccoli to sink your teeth into:
- Large – headed varieties – ‘Arcadia’, ‘Belstar’, ‘Munchkin’, ‘Nutri-Bud’, ‘Packman’. These produce the large domed heads that have many clustered florets. Most varieties produce smaller side shoots once the primary head is harvested.
- Sprouting Varieties -‘Calabrese’, ‘De Cicco’, ‘Purple Peacock’, ‘Purple Sprouting’ . These varieties are composed of a more bushy plant that produces many smaller heads. These varieties also do best from fall to spring in our climate.
- Romanesco Varieties -Natalino’. ‘Romanesco Italia’, ‘Veronica’. This is a very large plant that needs good growing conditions and excellent soil to do well. It is the variety that reminds me of a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. The heads are swirled and beautiful.
- Broccoli Raab – ‘Early Fall Rapini’, ‘Sessantina Grossa’, ‘Sorrento’, ‘Zamboni. This variety is closely related to turnips and is stronger flavored than regular broccoli. It is grown for it’s immature flower buds and is used in Italian and Asian cooking.
Growing the Crop
The recommended number of broccoli plants per person is three to four. If you want to freeze your broccoli you will need to plant more. Keep in mind that we have two season for broccoli in our area so you may not need to freeze as much as you think. For a Spring crop start seeds February 1 and transplant seedlings into the garden on March
1. Make sure to harden off your seedlings before you set them out.
Broccoli like a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Broccoli also like a sunny location, with fertile well drained soil. Work in well rotted compost and a high nitrogen fertilizer before planting your broccoli. Keep in mind that broccoli is a very heavy feeder. It does well in an area where you had beans last year. Mix in composted poultry manure or alfalfa meal as broccoli likes a high nitrogen feed. Space plants 18-20 inches apart. Dwarf varieties such as Munchkin can be planted 12 inches apart.
As the heads start to form give your broccoli a boost of nitrogen.
Mulch the soil to keep it cool and keep the broccoli from bolting. Put 2 inches or more of straw or wood chips around the plants to keep the ground moist and cool.
Harlequin Bugs – These are the first pests to hit your broccoli crop in the spring. Handpicking is the best option. you can also take a bucket of soapy water or orange oil and water and knock them into it. Vacuuming them off also works. Make sure to handpick off the eggs and squish them as well. Orange oil, Rotenone and pyrethium mix are options that may be sprayed and Diatomaceous Earth may be used.
Cabbage Loopers and other leaf eating caterpillars Spray with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or spinosad every seven days until problem dissipates.
Cabbage Root Maggots – Use a piece of lightweight cloth or piece of window screen to cover the ground around each plant. Plant the seeds deeply also and make sure that the soil is packed firmly if you have had problems in the past. Most importantly rotate crops.
Aphids – Spray aphids off with a forceful blast of water every other day. You can also use a few drops of castile soap to wash their little mouths out.
Broccoli flowers are a great source of nectar for beneficial insects such as lady bugs and beneficial wasps.
Black Rot – Pull up plants and throw in garbage.
Fusarium Yellows and Wilt – Healthy soil is the key for prevention. Copper hydroxide will take care of the problem if you get fusarium yellows.
Head Rot – Give ample spacing when planting and plenty of boron and calcium.
Harvesting and Storing
You want the crowns tight, but the edges will start to show a little loosening. After you harvest the main head shoots will appear, continue to harvest the shoots for many weeks to come.When harvesting broccoli cut at an angle so that water does not pool up in the stem and create rot.
Broccoli Raab is a little different to harvest. Harvest as soon as the first flowers show their yellow petals. Broccoli raab is a cut and come again crop just as broccoli is, the trick is to harvest often.
Isolate broccoli from other member of the Cruciferae family by 1/4 mile or you will not have true seed. Woods buildings and tree lines can act as barriers between varieties. Allow plants to flower and let seed pods dry. Be careful not to let pods shatter when gathering them. Use a 1/8” screen when cleaning. You can also rub and shake in a paper bag. Broccoli seeds will remain viable for 5 years when kept in cool dry conditions.
Broccoli is a very versatile vegetable. The stems can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are very tasty and can be eaten raw or cooked as well. To get all of the cancer causing benefits of broccoli steam or stir fry your broccoli for 3 or 4 minutes. Boiling takes away all of the cancer causing benefits but it still retains other good vitamins. Here are some links with recipes for you to try.