Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fall Broccoli

Plant broccoli now for the best tasting heads of the year.

Brassica oleracea 'Marathon'

The secret to the best-tasting broccoli is in the season. Broccoli that matures during cool weather produces healthy heads that are sweeter tasting than those you pick at any other time. This is because fall conditions are much more consistent than spring.

Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable with its roots in the Mediterranean region. Along with other cole crops, such as cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, broccoli is a descendant of wild cabbage. It comes in two common forms, heading and sprouting types. The heading variety forms one large head of flower buds on a central stalk, while the sprouting variety forms lots of small florets in the leaf axils.

Brassica oleracea 'Arcadia'

When to plant. If you want to sow seeds directly in the garden, do so about 85 to 100 days before the average first fall frost in your area. Usually around late summer, the end of August. If you're able to find seedlings, add 10 days to the 'days to maturity' and count backwards from your first frost date.

Where to plant.
Broccoli grows best in full sun and soil that is slightly acidic, between pH 6.0 and 6.8, fertile and well-drained. If you're gardening in raised beds, space your plants 15 to 18 inches apart; for gardening in rows space plants 18 to 24 inches apart and space your rows 24 to 36 inches apart.

Keep them fed.
Broccoli is a moderately heavy feeder, so work in 2 to 4 inches of rich compost or a thin layer of well-aged manure. After you have harvested the plant's central head, you can encourage side-shoot production by sidedressing the soil with fish meal or aged manure.

Harvest hints.
For best flavor, harvest broccoli heads while the buds are just starting to swell.
Harvest the central head by cutting the stalk at a slant, about 5 to 8 inches below the head. Most importantly, harvest the broccoli in the morning before the plants heat up, because broccoli has a high respiration rate.*

Brassica oleracea 'Gypsy'

*Organic Gardening - Aug/Sept 2006. Kris Wetherbee

Sources: Burpee Seeds, burpee.com

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