Broccoli is an easy-to-grow vegetable which, ounce for ounce, provides more
Vitamin C than orange juice and nearly as much calcium as milk. It also
contains compounds that act in many ways to build strong health and to
Broccoli, like many of the most nutritious and delicious plants in our
garden, belongs to the mustard family, officially known as the
Brassicaceae. Besides broccoli and its close relatives, this family also
includes turnips, rutabagas, mustards, radishes, rape (the plant which
provides canola oil) and a wide variety of oriental greens. The most
interesting and familiar species in this family is <I>Brassica oleracea
</I> which includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi,
cauliflower, kale and collards.
Although these vegetables look quite different, they are really
closely-related plants. Their stems, leaves or flowers have been modified
by growers to produce storage organs which are the parts we like to eat.
In cabbage, it is the terminal bud and surrounding leaves, while in
Brussels sprouts, we eat the axillary buds with smaller leaves wrapped
around them. Kohlrabi's stem is swollen into a solid vegetable the size of
a tennis ball, while culinary broccoli and cauliflower are just very large
flower buds. It's not surprising then that broccoli stems and leaves, as
well as the buds are edible. In fact, as full of vitamins and minerals as
the broccoli florets are, the leaves contain five times as much Vitamin A
and ounce for ounce, twice as much calcium as milk.
The buds, the stems and the leaves are also good sources of beta-carotene,
iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber. Other components of broccoli and
its relatives have been shown to help prevent cancer in humans. These
indoles, monoterpenes, plant sterols and tannins protect against cancer in
a variety of ways. Some are antioxidants and others promote our body's
production of the enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, or facilitate enzyme
activity. Tests at Johns Hopkins University showed that broccoli was
better at inducing these beneficial enzymes than any other vegetable,
except green onions. The variety Saga was the most effective
enzyme-stimulator and tolerates summer heat as well.
Since it's as easy to grow as it is delicious, broccoli's a good place to
start a relationship with the cabbage family. Although they prefer cooler
weather, I've found that broccoli (or cabbage or Brussels sprouts)
seedlings can be set out in the garden almost anytime from April into July.
Broccoli and its relatives need lots of sun and fertile soil, with plenty
of compost to provide an even supply of moisture and nutrients.
Five-to-six inch tall seedlings, set out this Memorial Day weekend, will
begin producing heads in about two months and will keep on producing until
the heavy freezes of late October or November. Over the next two months,
broccoli seeds can also be sown (in flats or directly in the garden) for a
bountiful fall harvest.
Just like many summer flowers, once the central broccoli bud is cut, the
plant sends out new buds along its stem. As long as those are cut, the
plant will keep producing more. The heads on the side shoots are smaller
of course than the main one. For maximum production, cut the main head
high up on the stem, when it is about three inches in diameter. Keep
cutting the developing buds before they begin to bloom. Left long enough,
they will open to the yellow, cross-shaped flowers typical of the mustard
family, and production will slow down. 'Emperor' 'Green Valiant' and
'Jaguar' are especially good varieties for a five-month, side-shoot
Wildlife, especially woodchucks and the larva of the white cabbage moth
like to eat broccoli, too. The little worm is easy to squish, however.
It's dark green manure pellets are more visible than its broccoli-colored
body. Look for the larva on the leaf midribs about one week after you
first see the moths. I wish I could say it is as easy to get rid of
woodchucks. Good fences help.
Fresh from the garden, broccoli is a very delicious and economical way to
protect your health.
Plant some soon.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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