unusual broccolis, spigarello and kale for fall

Size of central head of 'Piracicaba' broccoliI’VE BEEN EXPERIMENTING with a wider palette of brassicas—those good-for-you plants in the mustard family, a.k.a. cruciferous vegetables, or cole crops. (Why are there always so many names for everything?) Lately, I’ve focused on cousins that are easier to grow and longer-producing in my Zone 5B of the Northeast than conventional broccoli with its large central head. Bigger isn’t always better (see that lovely half-cup-sized beauty above?) I had such good results from early plantings of new-to-me types including spigarello and ‘Purple Peacock’ that I’m sowing more—right now—to insure a steady supply into latest fall, and beyond.  Can I entice you try some?

I’m most interested in what I’d describe as “cut and come again” varieties, where I don’t get all my harvest at once but can pick at the plants over a long season, from young, tender parts to the more mature flowering stage. All of these choices have something to offer in that regard:

spigarello plant Spigarello, or spigariello, or simply “leaf broccoli” (or many other things this semi-mystery plant has been called, including minestra nera, or cavolo broccolo ‘a Getti di Napoli’) was a gift from Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl, who saves her seed each year. Eventually (apparently after 70-something days) it will make small florets, even less significant than broccoli raab’s, I suspect, but in that direction. But who cares if it does? The leaves (above, on immature plants) are delicious, so you can eat spigarello anytime in its life cycle. I confess I have even stolen leaves to chop up, raw, in my salad, and sautéed some—just wilted, the way you might spinach, with some garlic and oil–but you can plant a whole stand and harvest entire flowering plants, too.  Two sources I found: Johnny’s (in Maine) and Terroir (in Arizona).

Young leaves of 'Purple Peacock' broccoli‘Purple Peacock’ broccoli came to me from Frank Morton, the longtime breeder and organic seed farmer in Oregon known especially for his greens and his calendulas. It has the purple-stemmed, glaucous-blue coloration of my lifelong favorite kale, ‘Russian Red’ or ‘Ragged Jack’ (again with the names!). No wonder; Morton crossed broccoli and two kales to get ‘Purple Peacock.’ Apparently it, too–in all of its parts–can be eaten at any stage.

“Young leaves are salad-rate, and mature leaves are as sweet as any lightly steamed kale,” says Morton’s Wild Garden Seed catalog listing. “Floret stems erupt first as loose heads of broccoli, followed by prodigious side shoots. These are sweet and non-biting as raw ‘dippers’ and salad additions.” Get seed from Wild Garden, where it was developed. My young plants only have leaves so far; to see it headed up, click over to Wild Garden Seed.

First central head of 'Piracicaba' broccoli‘Piracicaba’ broccoli came to me via Hudson Valley Seed Library a couple of years ago, and I’ve praised it before to you. The central first head (above) is about ½ cup-sized (hence my photo up top in a measuring cup). But it’s after that when this plant gets really interesting to me. Small side shoots or florets are produced every couple of days, and from four spring-sown plants last year I had months of broccoli—more than I could eat fresh, so ‘Piracicaba’ became a staple in my homemade vegetable soup recipe, too. Leaves and smaller stems are likewise tasty. Hudson Valley Seed Library sells it.

harvesting, and resowing, the crucifers now

IN MY ZONE (the Hudson Valley, NY-Berkshires, MA area) now through mid-July is a good time to sow these again, and also kales. (All my succession-sowing crops are in this story from the archive, along with links to fall garden planting calendars from around the nation.)

Having problems with cabbage worms? I seem to have timed things right this year–and I was extra-careful with my fall cleanup, removing all the 2012 debris to an area far from the garden, to compost it in the woods. More on dealing with cabbage worms.

Get more on broccoli harvesting and growing various varieties—and learn just when to harvest (hint: before you see the yellow of their flowers!), from Hudson Valley Seed Library. I started some types in pots indoors because it has been hot and dry out lately, but I’ll direct sow most of them right in the garden, before the next rains in the coming week, heavens willing.

  1. val says:

    This is so great–thank you! I struggle with broccoli and cauliflower (though not giving up yet). I immediately ordered the Piracicaba.

  2. Steve says:

    Hi Margaret.
    We really like Spigariello. There are two types a flat leaf (liscia) and curly (riccia). It looks like you have the flat leaf in your photo. We purchased our seeds from ‘Seeds from Italy’ (growitalian.com). We probably prefer the flat leaf for the tasty leaves as well as the florets, but the curly leaf has larger florets. Very hardy plants.
    We’re also big fans of broccoli raab. ‘Novantina’ is a good variety for fall. A little slower growing and larger florets.
    I tried Purple Peacock once but wasn’t impressed. One of the parents, Red Russian kale is a long time favorite. Here in the maritime northwest Russian Red reliably overwinters from summer planting (or self sowing which is what happens in our garden) and it produces tasty florets in the spring. We actually like them better than purple sprouting broccoli.

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, Jan. Your timing may be a little different, since you have a longer fall than I do — you probably have a little leeway with sowing. But yes!

  3. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I love kales and broccoli rabes. Thank you for these suggestions and thank you for making me feel better about planting now. My first crop has gone to the bunny farm. There is still hope that I eat some of these delicious greens – which will have to be fenced. At least I do not have a bear!

  4. stretch says:

    if you gardeners out there are having trouble growing those kales and broccolis I find by giving them a boost of finely ground eggs shells or bone marrow will help them alond into nice bold heads.

  5. Teri Weaver says:

    Do you direct sow the Piracicaba? I started some inside this winter and got nothing. I’d like to plant it directly in the place that the garlic occupies now, which would be in about two to three weeks, I’m guessing. And that’s assuming the dog and I can dispatch all the groundhogs from under the patio by then. We caught one last night. Success!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Teri. I did the early Piracicaba in seedling cellpacks and then transplanted, but I could direct sow it now, I think. I find indoors easier (actually at this time I do it on my back porch, in cellpacks, and put them out in the sun by day. I say easier because sometimes it gets hot/dry right now and keeping the seeds properly moist can be tricky. Please come take my rabbit when the trap is available…please!

      Hi, LS. Broccoli raab (rabe) growing instructions here (click the tab that says growing instructions). They are sown 10-12 seeds to a foot and thinned to maybe every 2 inches, and you can “cut and come again” from the plants or harvest whole plants or bunches of plants.

  6. LS says:

    I just planted broccoli rabe for the first time, and am confused about how much to thin the plants. Do they grow in clusters of separate leaves?

    So far I’ve left a few inches between clusters and they’re growing like crazy.

  7. Margaret says:

    Hello there, love your site! I was wondering if you knew a site or a place that would sell the spigarello plant already? As I am located in North Carolina it seems a little to late to plant the seeds and wait for them to grow. Any suggestions are appreciated! Thanks!

  8. Laura Carlson says:

    I found spigarello starts at the farmers market this spring. Now I have six mature plants starting to flower. Are the leaves still good at this stage? How do I extend the lives of these plants? Will they continue to grow if I cut the stalk back to a few inches, leaving some leaves? Or should I harvest the entire plan, remove leaves, blanch and freeze? Thanks.

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