Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to Plant Broccoli: The King of Cancer Prevention

How to Plant Broccoli

We start all our broccoli from seed and pick varieties that do well in our warm humid summers and cool fall weather. We planted about 75 plants this week. Broccoli takes about 40 days from a 3-4 inch transplant to harvest. We typically plant several different cultivars with slightly different maturities to assure a continuous harvest of tender sweet heads. We will start harvest in a week or so.

We bring transplants to market all summer long and are still planting seeds in July and August because fall broccoli is some of the best of the year. Broccoli does very well in the summer heat as long as it has plenty of water. It also acclimates to fall weather and light frosts very well. It is not unusual for us to still be picking broccoli until Thanksgiving if the temperature doesn’t get below about 20 degrees before then. 

We bring to market what we are planting so you can plant fall broccoli too.

So how do I pick the best varieties (see our post on seed selection). Broccoli is one area where I find that the heirloom varieties are completely unsatisfying for commercial use, where the customer is trained to want a firm compact head with small beads. So I look for the most expensive seed in the suppliers list, which typically has the best flavor, best disease resistance, best yields, firmest heads and most predictable maturity. This may not be what the purist gardener would look for, but as a grower for market this “works for me”?

One of our more distinguishing customers did a taste test a few years ago, where she bought broccoli at many different stands at our market. She said our tasted best. She did this over the course of several months in preparation for freezing some for the winter. She wanted to know what variety we planted. We had marketed three different varieties during this time and to her they all “tasted the best”.  Hmmm? Why would that be?

The secret to great flavor in broccoli is to first grow your crop without chemicals. No chemical fertilizers, no chemical sprays and no chemical pesticides. The second is to grow your broccoli in soils that have great minerals from kelp, fish emulsions, rock powders (like calcium), and most if all, lots of amazing compost to feed the soil! Usually we side dress with compost after the plants have been in the ground for a few weeks and are well established. If it is a difficult growing season like this year, we sometimes make a trench and fill the trench with compost, then plant the broccoli into the compost. You cant’ loose with this approach. Just make sure the transplants get enough water during the first week after transplanting (not a problem this year).

If you find cabbage loopers in your broccoli you can easily remove them with a quick dip in a salt solution of one table spoon per gallon of water. This isn’t a problem later in the season after the first few light frosts.

I harvest with a good sharp cabbage knife, our teens use a paring knife. Because they
are inexpensive if you loose them. Which only happens about once a day at our house. When we lived in town it was socks that got lost after every laundry. On the farm it seems to be paring knives. We by 5 packs by the case. When I was a teen and working for the seed corn company doing detassling, we used these same knives to cut out the volunteer corn from the good stuff. This was called rouging, but I digress.

Broccoli will keep several weeks in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Keep the broccoli in a zip lock or handle bag tied shut so it doesn’t wilt. Use as soon as you can as the vitamin content tends to wane after a week or so. Still tastes good though.

Broccoli is one of the best cancer fighting vegetables and also provides great fiber for your system. Great tasting broccoli has more of the phytonutrients (a fancy name for plant nutrients) that keep us well. Eat to your good health.

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