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Broccoli

This Brassica favorite has been enjoyed in Europe since the Roman Empire, yet it only became really popular in the U.S. in the Roaring Twenties. Easily grown in fertile soil and cool, sunny weather, Broccoli is best grown as transplants, sown 4 weeks before setting out, 2 weeks before the last spring frost date. Sow seed again in July to transplant out for an additional fall Broccoli bonanza. Harvest the crisp, dark green florets with a sharp blade before the florets open, as close to consumption as possible. Avoid flower development, and harvest regularly to encourage new side shoot growth. Broccoli is best enjoyed raw, steamed, stir-fried or roasted to reap the benefits of its Vitamin C, dietary fiber and anti-cancer properties: any way but boiled. Listen to your body's Broccoli cravings. We adore it roasted in combination with quartered Red Onions, Brussels Sprouts, baby Carrots, Fennel, Cauliflower and black seedless grapes. Or, in Chef Gene Genarelli's raw Broccoli Pecan Salad. We've eaten it for breakfast. Deer resistant.

Average seed life: 3 years.

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Gardening Tips

A New Use for Old Leaves
Brassicas such as Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Cabbage benefit from a nitrogen boost. An excellent way to provide this—and trace minerals as well—is to till or fork some autumn leaves into the bed, the fall before planting. If the leaves have been composted for a year or two, so much the better.

A Swish in Time
The little green worms on your Broccoli are harmless--but not the most appetizing garnish. After picking, soak the heads for 10 minutes in a sink full of heavily salted water, then swish the Broccoli before removing it. The worms, killed by the salt, will fall to the bottom.

Let It Bloom
Nothing goes to seed quite as relentlessly as Broccoli. You are, after all, growing heads of tasty green buds, and a bud is determined to become a flower unless cool weather slows it down. One tries to keep up with the harvesting—to encourage the production of new bud-laden shoots—and to snip off flowering stalks promptly. After a certain point, the edible stalks diminish and soon the plant is a riot of yellow blooms. Tidy gardeners then rip the plants out and compost them. We like to leave some for the bees, who are grateful for this superior nectar source.