Your broccoli hates you. That's why despite the news reports about how substances in broccoli and avocadoes may reverse aging, your broccoli produces stingy stumps instead of the fat beauties you see in the supermarket, and why your broccoli plants give you one crop instead of flush after flush as winter and spring progress. That may even be why your seedlings vanish overnight or even between going to work and coming home again. They are scurrying off as fast as their roots can take them to a happier home.
Or, possibly, your broccoli has no personal feelings about you one way or another, or has it learned to do a marathon. You don't know how to grow broccoli.
Step 1. Grow a variety that produces multiheads. Read the label Mabel, and do not buy unless it says a variation on the theme of '… will give you a succession of smaller heads after the main crop is picked'.
Step 2. Buy seeds or seedlings now. Not next week or next month. Broccoli needs to get started before winter to become sturdy, self-respecting young plants or in spring you will have spindly plants that won't give you a decent crop.
Step 3. Plant, then cover with a small personal greenhouse made from half a clear plastic soft drink or soda water bottle. This will keep off snails, butterflies or moths that lay eggs that become broccoli-eating caterpillars and also help give the seedlings a boost to grow fast before winter. Take them off when the seedling is about 15 cm high.
Step 4. Feed once a week, unless you are growing them in home-made compost. If you feel like cossetting them, also spray the leaves with a foliar fertiliser once a week according to directions on the container. This will help cold resistance as well as feed them.
Step 5. Wait. Broccoli is a late winter/spring crop in cold areas.
Step 6. Do not be greedy. Don't wait till the top sprout is as big as possible. Pick when it is still small and firm and not starting to open into florets.
Step 7. Keep feeding!!!!!! And watering. And mulch as soon as the broccoli begins to form, to keep the soil cooler as well as moister. Broccoli will not feed you if you don't feed it.
Step 8. Keep mulching. Keep feeding. And most of all, keep picking, because once you let a side shoot bloom bright yellow, the stems will get tougher and the number and quality of side shoots lessens dramatically or even stops altogether.
Broccoli leaves are good to stir-fry too, and the stems delicious when tender, or peeled if they seem a bit tough. If you buy broccoli from a farmers' market the stems will be juicy and fresh, so don't waste them. Slice thinly and cook, or peel and stir-fry the chunks, delicious with a touch of oyster sauce, or cubed and added to a good soup like minestrone.
Actually the secret to growing superb broccoli is to eat lots. The more you pick the more you will remember/bother to feed, mulch and water those generous plants. It may even slow or reverse your aging. And, even it doesn't, it will have improved your quality of life – and dinner.
This week I am:
- gazing through the foliage of the Melia azedarach (native white cedar) with binoculars to see what the bright red 'flowers' up top are – they turned out to be the seed heads usually not produced till the tree loses its leaves in winter … our poor white cedars feel a bit muddled about the seasons too;
- watching the bower birds eat the last of the persimmons – luckily we don't like persimmons;
- picking the first of this season's avocadoes;
- giving friends armfulls of rhubarb, which the rain had made over-abundant, and fragrant native finger limes;
- saying farewell as the swifts migrate north; and
- possibly getting time to plant seedlings, but probably more focused on cleaning up flood damage. Note to slef. Do not bother to build attractive stone walls by the creek. Sooner or later, the flood always wins.
PS Could anyone who finds a home-made pump trolley – possibly still attached to the pump- somewhere between North Araluen and the sea, please give us a buzz? We have replaced the pump, but Bryan is mourning the loss of his carefully home-made trolley, perfect for pulling the pump up from the creek … until, after thirty years without a decent flood, we stopped bothering. This flood was a tiny one compared to those of the 1970s and '80s, but still wonderful, despite the damage. The waterfalls are flowing, the creek flats enriched from gully soil washed from the tablelands above, the grass is lush and the leeches fat.
But the leeches are another story …