Did you know that when you eat broccoli you are actually eating flowers? As children, many of us had broccoli introduced to us as “little trees,” but actually they are little flower buds bursting with flavor and nutrition. Broccoli has been cultivated for hundreds of years, originally in Turkey, making its way across Europe and finally showing up in Thomas Jefferson’s garden in 18th century America. It wasn’t until the 1930’s, however, that Americans learned to really enjoy broccoli, thanks to a pair of Italian brothers, Stephano and Andrea D’Arrigo, who brought their broccoli seeds and love of the vegetable to California in the 1920’s.
Broccoli is delicious served raw in salads and, of course, its edible stems come in handy when dipping them in veggie dips and dressings. It is equally at home, cooked and served with a rich hollandaise or cheese sauce, stir-fried with other vegetables or meats, baked in casseroles, simmered in soups, or simply steamed in all its bare green beauty.
Isn’t it great when such a delicious and versatile food is also so good for our health, as well? The National Cancer Institute suggests that broccoli may be very helpful in the prevention of some forms of cancer. Its beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber, calcium and phytochemicals are thought to enhance enzymes that help detoxify the body, helping to not only prevent cancer, but heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
All vegetables are at their best when harvested straight from the garden and when it’s your own home garden, well, you just can’t get any fresher than that. Broccoli is a cool weather crop and grows best in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F. Typically, you can have a spring and fall harvest. (Although in regions where the temperature doesn’t dip below the 40’s, you can harvest broccoli all winter long.)
For the spring harvest, plant seedlings in well-drained soil, with plenty of calcium and boron, about a month before the last expected frost. They should be planted in full sun although they can handle a little shade part of the day. Plant the seedlings just a bit deeper in the soil than they were in their containers and about 18 inches apart to garner the largest heads. Rows should be about 12 inches apart. In 40 to 90 days, harvest the center buds including about 5 inches of the center stalk. Always harvest while the buds are tight and have not opened revealing their bright yellow flowers. (Those may be pretty, but they aren’t tasty!) Side sprouts can be harvested for several more weeks. For a fall/winter harvest, plant the seedlings 90 days before the first expected frost of the season. You can even grow broccoli in containers, 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep, along with other plants such as pretty pink petunias and Dusty Miller to accent the colors of the vegetable.
So whether you call them little trees or edible flowers, broccoli plants fit the bill as attractive plants that provide important nutrition and delicious flavor.