Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vegetable Profile: Broccoli and Calabrese

The spring I’ve had more than one visitor look at my purple sprouting broccoli covered in mature buds and question, “Where’s the broccoli?”  I explained that all those small purple sprouts were the broccoli.  That gave me the idea of doing a new series of posts delving into the details of different crops.  I have a number of books that have helped us along the way to understand how different crops are related to each other.  So, here’s what I’ve gleaned about broccoli.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
First of all I’d like to say that taxonomists don’t all agree on how to classify the different types of broccoli.  I’m going to primarily use information from my books that were published in the UK, since broccoli was developed in Europe. 

Broccoli is in the Brassica (Cabbage) family.  It was developed from the wild cabbage in the 17th century in Italy.  The part we know as broccoli at the grocery store is the flower bud.  All brassicas will form flower buds which is troubling if you are trying to grow a cabbage to harvest.  (If you’ve had cabbage “bolt” you know what I mean.)  Broccoli varieties have been breed to form nice flower buds for harvesting.  Broccoli varieties are divided into sprouting types and heading types.  They are cultivated in different ways.

Sprouting Broccoli (Brassica oleracea Cymosa Group)(Purple Sprouting)
This group is very hardy and makes an excellent winter crop.  The flower buds are typically purple, but there are cream white varieties.  The flower buds form on both the top of the plant and on side shoots.  They produce over a long season from early winter to late spring.  We planted our purple sprouting broccoli in late august and was harvesting from early March to late May.

Heading Broccoli (Brassica oleracea Italica Group)(Calabrese, Green Sprouting Broccoli, Italian or American Broccoli)
This group produces a large central head and is what one typically thinks of as Broccoli.  Some varieties produce sideshoots after the main head is harvested.  Romanesco (Roman broccoli) is another form of heading broccoli that is cone shaped with smaller conical whorls on the surface.  Heading broccoli can be successively planted from early spring to mid summer, for harvesting from summer to fall.  In a mild winter a young plant may survive to produce heads in the spring, but it is much less hardy than the purple sprouting types and may not make it.

To make matters more confusing there are also types of Chinese broccoli and Broccoli rabe.  I’ve never grown Chinese broccoli, so I don’t have much to write about that.  Broccoli rabe is super easy to grow and is popular in Italy.  It is grown for its greens, stalks, and tangy flower buds.  It has a very strong flavor with the bitterness common in greens.  Broccoli rabe is very hardy and can be overwintered.  We only grew it once and found that we prefer the taste of kale and purple broccoli for our winter crops.  But, it is one for those easy crops that everyone should try at least once.  Plant in early fall. 

With all broccoli, it is important to harvest while the flower buds are tightly packed.  The buds mature quickly and will open up with yellow flowers.  We have used the freshly opened flowers for stir frying which is really pretty.  You can also use the tender stems in cooking or for soups.  I like to grow brassicas that will be ready to harvest during the cool season.  The cold temperature causes the plants to concentrate their sugars, so they are sweeter than those picked during the warm season.  
Broccoli rabe flower buds that have opened.  Used in sir fry. 
I won’t go into too much detail about pests and diseases.  If you don’t like caterpillars and aphids in your broccoli, I would recommend row covers to keep out the white cabbage moths and aphids during the spring and summer.  A row cover will also keep the cabbage root maggot fly from laying eggs in your soil.  The root maggots will hatch and eat the roots of your seedlings and kill them.  If you grow overwinter pests are less of a problem.  Also rotate your crops to avoid clubroot that is a soil-borne fungus that deforms the roots and causes root-rot.  Crop rotation is a good idea to avoid pests and diseases building up in one spot.

So, if you are not deterred by the prospect of catepillars, aphids, maggots and fungus, I’d say give a few varieties of broccoli a try.  Definitely attempt overwintering purple broccoli.  It is so wonderful having something fresh to harvest in late winter after months of eating all those put up (canned, frozen, dried, and cellared) crops from the previous summer and fall harvests.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mid- May Garden Update

We built a rustic trellis in our winter squash bed out of branches from our pine tree and lilacs.  We lashed it together with sisal twine.  

Our potato towers (adapted from the Henley Potato Tower) are almost full.  It seems like every few days we were adding more soil and pine straw.  We made notches in the boards to train some stems out the sides to bring more energy to the tubers.  I can't wait to see how well this system does compared to the ones that we planted in rows and hilled up.

Our Glenora & Concord grape vines (in their 3rd season) are finally full of flower clusters.

Parking strip is looking good.

The retaining wall garden is at the peak of blooming.  Usually it is covered in bees, but it's been so cold and wet lately, we haven't seen very many.  Terry has been squishing lots of slugs.

Sugar Snap Peas are climbing up the strings.

Fava beans are full of blooms and we've been eating lots of lettuce and spinach.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants are hanging out in the poly tunnel. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Many Hands Make Light Work

Before Terry and I got involved with the community garden, we had the vision of neighbors helping neighbors create home vegetable gardens.  Two years ago, a former coworker and I decided to start meeting as an informal garden club as a way to stay in touch.  We were joined by a fellow community gardener and every couple months during the growing season we would gather to potluck, tour each other's gardens, and learn from each other.  This year, with everyone having busy schedules and big plans for their garden, we decided that rather than just eating and talking, we would help each other complete a project and the host would provide food.  

Yesterday, was the first project hosted by Jen and Butch.  The goal was to finish building their vegetable garden of raised beds and sheet mulch in between.  They had all the wood precut and all the Tagro and wood chips ready to go.  

With six of us working together, it only took a few hours to complete the project.  It was awesome to step back and see Jen's vision become a reality.  Afterwards we dined on delicious pulled pork tacos.

It's been really cool seeing how our three gardens are developing and how we're all growing as gardeners.  We're all trying out different techniques and have different priorities, so it's been fun learning from each other.

I'm looking forward to the next project at Cori and Matt's.  Later this summer, our host project may include canning and/or building a greenhouse.

Community Garden Plant & Bake Sale - Success!

The Orchard & Vine Community Garden's first Spring Plant & Bake Sale was a big success.  Enthusiastic volunteers, yummy treats, wonderful plant donations, nearby coordinated garage sales and sunshine made for a good turnout.  

Randy's fabulous selection of tomato starts he donated sold the quickest followed by cucumber starts.  I already have lots of ideas swimming in my head for what to grow next year.

In total, $300 was raised to support projects and programs at the Garden.    

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Plant and Bake Sale

Orchard & Vine Community Garden is hosting it's first 
Spring Plant and Bake Sale
this Saturday, May 19th
10:00 am to 1:00 pm

Come take a tour, meet the gardeners, and support the garden!
It's our first plant & bake sale, so we may be light on plants and heavy on baked items.  Either way, it will be a fun event.

The Garden is located at N. 45th & Orchard St.

All proceeds will go towards projects and programs at the garden.  

Meet Bacon

Hi, my name is Bacon (aka Sir Fancis Bacon).  I came from the Humane Society.  I think I am a 7 month old Giant Schnauzer/Lab Mix. 

I like to chew on things, like my new friend, Smithers.  Smithers can be very grumpy at times, but I don't let that stop me.  I also like to eat Smithers' food.  I have a big appetite.

I like to play in the water.

I am very curious.  I am learning new things everyday.  Smithers is teaching me to bark at all the people who walk by on the sidewalk.  I like to bark when I'm excited, it feels really good to express myself.  

I like to chase the tennis ball.  I also like to chase cabbage moths and flies.

When I'm done chasing things, I like to lie on the grass and take a nap. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pea Trellis

For three years we planted pole peas along our permanent wood & metal hog panel trellis.  This year we decided to rotate our crops and plant them in a different spot.  This necessitated building new trellises.  We rummaged through our pile of salvaged wood, but didn't find anything suitable, so headed to Lowes.  We bought three bundles of 2x2s and a roll of sisal twine.

Attaching the 2x2s was fairly easy.  We pre-drilled, to avoid splitting the wood.  We debated how to attach the strings.  We ended up running a horizontal string near the bottom.  We cut notches in the wood to keep the string from slipping up the post.  Then we looped string vertically.  It really helped to have two people to do this.  One of us was up on the ladder to pass it over the top wooden horizontal while one of us passed it under the bottom horizontal string.  This weaving took a long time because we had four trellises to do and the string kept getting tangled up.

When we were finally finished, it was neat to see how the trellises created vertical interest and framed the garden.  In several weeks, they will form walls of green and hopefully be producing lots of sugar snap goodness.