We are happy to bring you a ten week series of our favorite vegetables that we grow here at Itzy Bitzy Farm.
The first of Top Ten Veggies is Broccoli.
Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat and grow.
Broccoli is very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Protein, Vitamin E Thiamin, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese. With only 28 calories in one half cup of cooked broccoli and 30 calories with raw, broccoli is a great veggie to enjoy if you are trying to cut down on caloric intake.
Broccoli is a cold weather crop, which means it grows well in early Spring and late Fall. We start our broccoli seed in our greenhouse in January and keep it in the greenhouse for eight weeks with one week of hardening off before transplanting into the garden around late March - early April. With this early start your plants will harvest-able heads by June, depending on the variety you are growing.
Our favorite varieties of broccoli are Waltham 29 (Heirloom), Di Cicco (Heirloom), Calabrese (Heirloom). We have grown all of these varieties and each has done very well for us.
DiCicco (50-70 days) is an Italian heirloom dating from 1890. It is a vigorous plant producing 3-5 inch wide main heads and seem to come to harvest at different times making a long harvest.
Waltham 29 (75 days) was bred by the University of Massachusetts in Waltham, MA. A high yielding plant that is dwarf and compact it produces 4-8 inch main heads and gives large side shoots when main head is harvested. Waltham 29 is a good cultivar for freezing. High cold resistance.
Calabrese (60-90 days) broccoli also an Italian heirloom that produces large shoots all around a main central head. After the central head is cut Calabrese will explode with side shoots. This variety is known to continue to produce for as much as six months.
Broccoli can be started inside 3-4 weeks before last frost or sown outside 4-6 weeks before last frost or as soon as soil can be worked. Seeds are sown 1/8-1/4 inch deep and germinates in 7-14 days. When seedlings are 4-6 inches tall transplant to 18 inches apart. When grown in raised beds you can plant staggered and about 12-15 inches apart.
Broccoli likes a good feeding of composted manure worked into the soil at planting time whether direct sowing or transplanting seedlings. After about 4 weeks but before heads start forming feed with a water soluble fish/seaweed emulsion that is given via a watering can directly over plant and around base of plant. With the manure applied at planting no other fertilizing should be needed the rest of the season. Keep broccoli area weeded and mulch with straw for moisture control and keeping the soil cool should you get a warm snap.
Diseases & Pests:
The biggest problem with growing broccoli is keeping ahead of the caterpillars and cabbage worms. A good preventative is floating row covers completely sealed around area the plants are growing. Since broccoli does not need pollination to make the veggie row covers can stay on for the life of the plant. I highly recommend this during seedling stage to protect against slugs which can devour a broccoli seedling in one night, trust me, I know
Another antidote to cabbage worms is insecticidal soap or specially made organic pesticide for worms and pillars.
One of the biggest health issues for broccoli can be a nitrogen deficiency. Bottom leaves will turn yellow and fall off and slowly yellow up the stem to upper leaves the plant will also get a pale green rather than a rich dark green characteristic of broccoli plants. Should this begin to happen feed a high nitrogen fertilizer. Also adding blood meal at time of planting helps greatly with this, apply according to package directions. Keep in mind low nitrogen may not be the only reason for yellow leaves, too much water can also cause this.
When the main head is of the desired size cut off cleanly with a sharp knife. Soon after you should see side shoots begin to sprout, these will not get as big as the main head and so can be harvested when big enough to eat.
Broccoli can be used in many ways. It freezes well for long use but does not can well. It can be eaten raw or cooked in a number of ways. Steamed or sauteed is our favorite way to serve broccoli.
Sauteed Broccoli Florets and Stems with Pasta Parmesan
Wash and dry broccoli shoots or head and cut head into bite size pieces. Heat 3 Tbsps olive oil in large saute pan with 2 cloves minced garlic. Add broccoli to oil and saute until firm tender. Remove from pan reserving oil in pan. Cook pasta of choice and add broccoli to pasta with 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese, toss all together, serve with green salad.