It's loved by many, disliked by some. It is a cabbage run amok, ad it's the flower that we eat, though the stem is also tasty. This food crop has been known for many centuries, dating back to Roman times, but it came late to the United States. It took a while to find its place on our table, but has enjoyed growing popularity since the 1950's.
Fresh, healthy broccoli picked fresh from the garden is sweet and succulent, and that alone is a good reason to keep a few plants in your garden year round. It is easy to grow, thrives most of the year in the garden, and is very, very good for you.
REASONS TO GROW BROCCOLI: You can grow broccoli most of the year here on the Central Coast of California. You can harvest specifically to encourage sprouting, so you can pick handfuls of florets when the main crop is gone. You can control pests in organic ways and avoid the heavy use of pesticides that are often used on this crop in fields grown conventionally. And even in the smallest garden, you can set out a couple of transplants every month to make sure you have the right amount, but not too much.
DeCicco is a standard variety that can be harvested in about 50 days if direct seeded. This one provides a long harvest period of side shoots.
Your favorite seed catalog will offer many varieties of hybrid broccoli plants; some that tolerate warmer weather, some that do better in cold. Here at Cole Canyon Farm we offer Packman and Windsor, two types selected because they are good performers, have a good temperature tolerant range, and hold well in our 3" containers. These plants are a big seller for us, so you can expect to get young, healthy seedlings ready for your garden from February through November.
WHERE TO GROW:
Broccoli does best in a garden environment. You can direct seed most of the year and transplant in the winter. Transplants may need a bit of staking while the roots get settled in. Some of the dwarf varieties of broccoli will do OK in containers if they have a minimum of 10" root space. The standard varieties, especially DeCicco, will not be happy in a container. They will take far too long to flower and give off an unpleasant odor that may not be appropriate to your deck or patio.
WHEN TO GROW:
Put in transplants in February and March, direct seed after that into August, then transplants again into November. Most hybrid varieties will be ready to eat in about 60 days, whereas the older varieties may take longer.
Broccoli is packed with Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, C and A. Minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc; all in significant amounts. Testing shows that broccoli also contains a substance called isothiocyantes that is a potent anti-carcinogen, thought to protect us from various forms of cancer in the digestive system.
The tender broccoli can be eaten raw (tray a broccoli slaw by mixing grated stems with shredded carrots, parsnips and cabbage) or warmed and tossed into pasta or rice. The stems need to cook a little longer and love to be sauteed with garlic and onions. We often throw stems into the roaster and add the florets about five minutes before pulling the pan out of a 500-degree oven. Coat all vegetables with a little grape seed oil in an oven that hot. Broccoli can be steamed or par-boiled, served hot with butter or drizzled with hot sesame oil.
You can juice broccoli into a variety of concoctions that provide hight levels of vitamins and minerals. Here's one that really tastes good.
Cruciferous Surprise, a nutrient dense, calcium-rich drink loaded with Vitamin C and carotenes.
2 - 4 kale leaves
1/2 cup broccoli florets with stems
1/2 head of cabbage, cut into wedges
The Complete Book of Juicing by Michael T. Murray, N.D.
100 Vegetables and Where They Come From by William Woys Weaver
Grow Vegetables by Alan Buckingham
Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Peirce
Edible Container Gardens by Michael Guerra