I used to think there was some magic to growing broccoli. It was a strange and beautiful plant I didn’t feel comfortable trying.
I don’t know why, but somehow beans, cucumbers, beans, radishes and more beans were less scary to me than broccoli.
Anything but broccoli!
That all changed this last year. After reading Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, my wife Rachel decided she wanted to try growing broccoli and I figured I’d let her try and see what happened. What happened was amazing – we had lots of delicious broccoli. Perfect heads. Lush greens. Amazing flavor. And since then, we’ve grown plenty more, starting from seeds in the spring and fall. It’s crazy – the plants do wonderfully here in Florida! So what was the trick?
Letting my wife do it!
In reality, I believe we have great luck with broccoli because we keep it well-watered, well-fertilized and also mixed in with other crops like peas, carrots and beets, making it less attractive to pests. I’m also a firm believer in foliar feeding. I’ve seen sad-looking plants turn into green giants. The garden beds are filled with lush, deep green growth thanks to our special method of regular fertilization. Don’t tell anyone, mmmkay?
Though they’re usually grown for their cluster of flower buds, Broccoli leaves are also edible in salads (you might want to remove the tough mid-ribs first) or as a cooked green. The flavor is very similar to that of collards – which makes sense, since collards are its less blue-blood relative. (It’s often the case that a garden plant with one edible part also has other portions that can be eaten. Take sweet potatoes or Florida cranberry, for example. Those extra uses are just icing. Or salads, as the case may be. Which are generally better for you than icing.)
As a survival crop, broccoli isn’t the easiest or most productive thing to grow. It likes decent soil and good care. It’s also rather recognizable (though I imagine thieves would rather be eating hot pockets or sugar-basted possum – not broccoli) as food.
On the up side, broccoli is delicious, healthy and grows through the winter without being troubled by frost. It’s also very healthy for you.
A few months ago we planted plenty of broccoli from seed and we’ve just started harvesting the heads. Since we over-planted beyond our immediate desire for broccoli, we’re going to be freezing plenty this spring as they all come into production. And that reminds me – when you harvest broccoli, just cut the first big head off before it gets close to blooming. Then keep checking on the plant… it’s going to grow multiple side shoots that will make many smaller heads as they grow. Keep cutting! Once that baby goes to seed, you’re done. The harvest season can be long with broccoli. If you plant it in fall, you’re likely to still be getting new shoots for months… maybe even into early summer.
In my experience, it does best right from seed, rather than as a transplant. Of course – most plants do. Forget the expensive transplants – buy a pack of seeds and scatter away, then thin ’em out and eat the thinnings. (I like to crouch over the beds, clawing up young plants and growling like an ogre as I consume their tender flesh… but that method is obviously not mandatory.)
If you’ve got a space for luxury foods, put in broccoli. At the very least, it make keep some members of the Bush family out of your garden.
And hey, speaking of broccoli, check out the first gardening thriller ever, Turned Earth: A Jack Broccoli Adventure. And if you want more information on survival plants, check out my book Florida Survival Gardening.
Latin Name: Brassica oleracea
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Flower heads, Leaves
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Raw, boiled, steamed
Storability: Leaves and heads can be blanched and frozen
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Very good