Goldfields gardens: broccoli, a healthy and versatile vegie-garden staple
Broccoli, Brassica oleracea, has an Italian name that means crest of a cabbage or sprout.
Broccoli developed from primitive brassicas in the northern Mediterranean about 600BC.
Broccoli likes well-drained soil, pH 6.5-7, which has been improved with well-rotted compost, manure, a light application of chook-poo pellets and rock dust.
It is a heavy feeder and benefits from a weekly dose of liquid seaweed or compost tea.
As the heads appear, fish emulsion or worm pee will improve their size and shape.
Broccoli can be grown from seed or seedlings. Plant seeds 1cm deep directly into beds. It is a good idea to plant progressively to ensure a continuous harvest.
What to plant this week
- Red cabbage
Allow 50cm between plants. Crowded plantings lead to smaller heads. Ensure seedlings are sturdy and at least 7cm high. Choose a sunny position, protected from strong wind.
Broccoli becomes stressed if not watered deeply at least twice weekly.
Water at the base as leaving water to sit on the leaves and head may lead to rot. Mulch deeply and consider subsurface irrigation.
Broccoli is ready for harvest in 16-20 weeks. Harvest early in the morning before it heats up. Use a sharp knife to cut the stalk on an angle to prevent water pooling and rotting. Smaller side shoots will be ready for a second picking in a few weeks.
Insect pests such as aphids, cabbage moths, and cabbage white butterflies are an issue.
- Cooking tip: Dunk lightly cooked broccoli in cold water to halt cooking and keep the florets bright green and crisp.
The leaves can be sprayed with bug spray or garlic emulsion. Exclusion netting is a great way to keep pests away.
Rough mulch or diatomaceous earth can deter slugs and snails. Regularly pick off caterpillars you find on the heads.
Spray the leaves with dilute liquid seaweed to prevent birds damaging young seedlings.
Broccoli is susceptible to club root, which causes the plant to wilt rapidly on hot days.
Practise crop rotation to avoid this problem and don’t return to the same bed for at least three years, If the bottom leaves turn yellow it is probably nitrogen deficiency. Treat with blood and bone. Treat downy mildew with milk spray.
There are many varieties to choose from — Goliath, Shogun Winter Harvest, Summer Green, Purple Sprouting, Sun King and Romanesco.
Kailaan (Chinese broccoli) is quick growing with a slightly bitter taste, and a crisp texture. The lighter, looser head is usually harvested when a few of the flowers have opened.
Before cooking, drop the broccoli heads into water and soak for five to 10 minutes. Caterpillars will become visible as they try to escape.
Traditionally, we eat the head but the stalks and leaves are edible and nutritious. Broccoli can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, and added to salads or stir-fries. Excess can be blanched and frozen. Cut off the dark green leaves and lightly saute or bake them into crunchy chips.
Plant with beans, coriander, cucumber, dill, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, peas, sage and rosemary. Don’t plant near garlic, rue, strawberries or tomatoes.
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