I’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, 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).
‘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.
‘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.