Broccoli has been cultivated for over 5,000 years but has been popular in this country for less than a century. The word broccoli, from the Italian plural of broccolo, refers to “the flowering top of a cabbage,” and the crop was introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants (including the family of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, original producer of the James Bond films, whose family farmed the vegetable on Long Island in the 1920’s).
Broccoli is a cool season crop so fall and spring crops are commonly produced. Seeds can be planted directly in the garden as early as soil can be worked, as shoots don’t mind a light freeze. Plants are also available at garden centers in mid to late March. (A second fall crop will fare best if planted from mid August to mid September.)
Plant broccoli in well drained soil and full sun. (8-10 hours a day). Prior to planting, till in 10-10-10 at a rate of 1 ½ pounds per 100 square feet. Sow plants at least 8-10 inches apart, in rows 2-3 feet apart. Growing plants need around one inch of water per week. When plants are 10-12 inches tall side dress them with complete fertilizer.
Insects enjoy broccoli almost as much as we do, so be prepared: cabbage worms feed on leaves (hand pick them or spray with insecticide), aphids feed under the leaves and cause them to wrinkle and discolor (spray with water or insecticidal soap), flea beetles leave holes in the foliage (spray with insecticide specifically for this pest) and cutworms cut young seedlings off at ground level (wrap plants in cloth “collars” and/or spray with insecticide). Fungal diseases can be limited with plenty of sun, good air circulation and crop rotation every 2-3 years.
Harvest broccoli before the heads open, cutting off the heads with a sharp knife, leaving around six inches of stem on the plant. Allow side shoots to develop for continuous production, until shoots get smaller and smaller. Be aware that flowers on broccoli heads continue to develop after they’re picked, so eat or refrigerate them as soon as you can as broccoli loses taste and texture after the flower buds open.
When cooking broccoli it’s best to cut the thick stalk and the heads to around the same size and steam them over a few inches of water for 3-5 minutes for crisp texture, longer for softer. It can be dressed up with butter, cheese sauces, spices, chopped bacon and other additions. Chopped broccoli can be added to soups, casseroles, quiches and mixed with other vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, onions and many others. It stir fries fast and easily, and is best cooked just until bright green, alone or with other veggies. My favorite broccoli recipe is Broccoli Salad, found in every church cookbook I’ve ever seen: mix a bunch of raw diced broccoli with ½ pound of cooked, chopped bacon, ½ cup of raisins, ½ cup of red onion, 1 cup of sunflower seeds or peanuts, 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of red vinegar and ½ cup of sugar. Refrigerate at least several hours or overnight. Enjoy.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.