Friday, September 15, 2006

Bodacious Broccoli

As long as your ground doesn’t freeze solid and you don’t have a thick blanket of snow on the ground, you can eat fresh out of your garden all year . Broccoli contributes to the diversity of foods you can grow at home during the cold months. Even if you can’t garden all year, broccoli can stretch your season. It can be started now for a fall crop, and it can be set out as soon as the ground can be worked for an early spring crop. It is perfect to plant most varieties now for fall and through the end of October for late winter. Once established, most varieties can take a pretty hard frost and sprinkling of snow. And broccoli is available in a diversity of forms.

For those fond of serving broccoli raw as an appetizer or in salads the new (and not so new) colored broccoli’s will add a little excitement to your dinner table. I can just hear it now. “Eat your broccoli, Dear.” “But Mom, its purple.” “It’s ok Dear, it’s supposed to be purple.” Broccoli is available in not just green and purple, but also white, red, and almost blue. And while the kids may not like it, and the cousins may not like it, it will certainly impress your friends. If your prefer your broccoli cooked, except for the white broccoli, it all cooks up green. However, the colored broccolis are just as easy to grow, so even if you don’t like it raw, it might be fun to experiment in the garden.

Sprouting broccoli is a favorite in many gardens. It produces a central head like most other broccoli plants. But when that head is cut the plants continue to produce smaller heads over a long time period. Some varieties will produce small heads for approximately 6 weeks, while others may produce for many months.

If you have a small family there are varieties of broccoli just for you. Some of them are standard forms that produce one head per plant. Others are the sprouting broccoli types mentioned above and will produce several small heads over a few weeks or months. Look for Broccoli Kabuki for small plants and Packman for small early heads on almost full sized plants.

The tiniest broccoli heads are found on Raab or Rapini. These small heads are cut and cooked with a few of the top leaves and are ready for harvest in 5 – 8 weeks from planting. These tasty treats have a bit of a warm mustard flavor and they are great in soups and stir fry. If you like a bit of heat they can also be munched raw in salads, with dip, or straight from the garden.

New to my garden this year is Spigariello, a form of broccoli grown for its leaves. Unlike broad leaved broccoli this one sports narrow frilly leaves that are its main attraction. Foodies everywhere know that little fancy leaves are the fashionable thing when it comes to green salads, aspics, and broth based soups. However, Spigariello also adds a nice note to macaroni and potato salad, and anywhere you need a little flare. The young tender leaves can be used raw, while the older leaves are best for cooked dishes.

When ordering seeds or purchasing broccoli plants be sure to read the entire plant description or seed package. Some types are not cold hardy and must be grown in the warmer months. Some types are not adapted to heat. Be sure you purchase the types of broccoli you want for the season they will be planted.

Broccoli is easy to grow from seed. Seeds need only be barely covered with soil and will usually germinate in a week to ten days. They do need to be kept evenly moist to start. Sometimes that is easier to accomplish in six packs full of potting soil than out in the garden. Broccoli is considered a heavy feeder, so choose the best soil you have available, and then keep it mulched at least until the weather cools down. Broccoli does not need full sun all day, but it does need to get some sun, and it won’t do well in deep shade. Young plants can be tucked in the ground in-between squash or pepper plants now, as long as you amend their planting holes with plenty of organic matter.

The young plants will benefit from the shade and camouflage from pests that the older plants provide. By the time the frost kills off the summer veggies, the broccoli will be ready to take over and thrive.

Young broccoli plants are definitely bothered by slugs and snails. It is a good idea to go out with a flash light at night or early in the morning for a few days before and after you plant your young broccoli. If you arm yourself with a zip-lock bag and a glove (or another recycled plastic bag) you can hand pick all those hungry critters and dispose of them, before they dispose of your little plants. Cabbage worms can also be a big problem. We will be talking about all the ways to organically control cabbage worms in an up-coming article. Meanwhile, try to check your plants every few days. Squish any little green worms you see and knock off any bug eggs and your plants should be just fine.

All the Broccoli varieties are members of the very nutritious Brassica family. And broccoli is very diet friendly. A full cup has only 31 calories! It is high in calcium, potassium, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, beta-carotene, and lutein. That is a pretty great package. But that is not all. Broccoli is considered a powerful cancer preventative, as well as helpful for a number of other health problems including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. For more information see:

Broccoli is lots of fun in the kitchen. It can be steamed for an easy side dish. Serve steamed broccoli as is, or chop it up and serve over a baked potato, toast, or pasta with a sprinkling of olive oil, some gravy, or grated cheese. Cooked broccoli can be whizzed up in the food processor and used as a base for hot or cold soups. The puree can be diluted, if desired, with broth or milk, and other cooked or raw veggies can be added as well as cooked pasta, rice, or whatever suits your fancy. Broccoli can also be added to casseroles, soup, salads – pretty much anything you are cooking – except maybe desert. And it looks and tastes great as part of a platter of fresh veggies to go with ranch dip. So grow lots of colors and have fun!


Nichols Garden Nursery offers seeds of a number of kinds of broccoli, including Raab, Spigariello and some of the more standard types. You can contact them by phone or through their web site: (800)422-3985

Richters Herbs has a deep blue-green Calabrese broccoli, as well as an old fashioned Italian sprouting broccoli. (905) 640-6677

Johnny’s Selected Seed offers Packman and Raab, as well as standard and sprouting broccoli. (877) 564-6697

Thompson and Morgan carry the mini Kabuki Broccoli, various colored varieties, and a large number of standard and sprouting types. (800) 274-7333

Other Fall and Winter Veggies:


Giant Red Japanese Mustard:




Next time we will be exploring saving seeds, and the home seed bank. (You can arrange to trade for almost any seed you would like to try, with your own home saved seeds!) Until then, you can find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, August 22, 2006. Posted here with permission.