WILLSBORO – Harvesting and planting broccoli in early spring is one of the last growing season projects at Willsboro Research Farm funded by the Upstate New York Agricultural Development Program.
“One of the main crops I’m interested in is sprouting broccoli,” said Elisabeth Hodgdon, regional vegetable specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern New York Horticulture Program.
“This is a crop more commonly grown in Europe and England. They grow it in winter. They call it winter sprouting broccoli. Sprouted broccoli is a vegetable you cook like asparagus.
“Broccoli doesn’t form a main broccoli crown like you would typically see in a grocery store story. It forms a small crown in the center, but then it produces many different side shoots that have small broccoli florets and then long stems with small leaves.
“EVERYTHING IS EDIBLE”
The whole germ – stem, leaves, florets – everything is edible.
“The stems of these sprouting broccoli are very tender,” she said.
“The leaves are beautiful and tender. They don’t have a bitter taste like broccoli rabe can sometimes have. It is a very good taste quality. There are different types of sprouting broccoli related to the colder climate that prompts them to produce sprouts and a crown.
The project looked at the high vernalization requirements for different varieties.
“Some varieties require longer exposure to cold temperatures in order to produce broccoli sprouts or crowns,” Hodgdon said.
“These varieties are the ones grown in winter in Europe where winters are milder. One of our projects with sprouted broccoli is to plant the broccoli in our unheated tall tunnel in the fall.
The plants grow until they are about a foot tall.
“Or some of them are a bit shorter depending on the planting date,” she said.
“Then they winter in the tunnel without any heat. They don’t grow in winter. They just sit there in sleep. We cover them with a thin blanket in rows. Once the days start to lengthen and the days are longer in February, they will start to grow again. “
The covers are removed in late February / early March or when conditions are good.
“After this exposure to the cold, they will produce broccoli,” Hodgdon said.
“The idea is that broccoli can be harvested very early in the spring, so potentially in March, April or May.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE, MAINE SUCCESS
Collaborators from the University of New Hampshire have successfully sprouted broccoli over the winter, as have people working in seed companies and farms in Maine.
“We tried this last winter, and the conditions just didn’t work,” she said.
“Most of the plants died eventually. We had a really big cold snap in November and our seedlings were a little too small for the winter. We had some broccoli this spring, but it was not a healthy harvest. So we are trying again this year.
“We started our sowing a little earlier. Our seedlings are healthier before winter. We had a pretty gentle fall, so we had good growth. We don’t necessarily want the plants to be too big for the winter, as they are more sensitive to cold then.
The project tested two different sowing dates.
“We are trying to develop recommendations for sowing dates and varieties to maximize winter potential and early spring yield,” she said.
“So we looked at different varieties and then we played with the planting dates to see what works best to get the most broccoli in the spring.
Broccoli transplanted to Willsboro this fall looks good so far.
“We’re going to cover it because nighttime temperatures are expected to be more consistent in the 1920s,” Hodgdon said.
“We hope we will harvest the broccoli in the spring, so maybe in April.”
Some varieties of broccoli require less exposure to cold to produce broccoli.
“So we’re trying to figure out when can we plant broccoli in a high tunnel in the spring to get early broccoli,” she said.
“Last spring we transplanted the broccoli into the high tunnel at the end of March, and we had a balmy spring. Our falls are getting warmer and our winters are getting milder. It is in a way putting all the chances on our side to do this kind of work.
Broccoli transplanted in March were harvested from mid-May.
“We had green sprouting broccoli and a lot of purple sprouting broccoli,” she said.
“So there are a number of varieties of purple sprouting broccoli that are really appealing. We had a good harvest of this spring broccoli.
It’s a good side dish that can be boiled, steamed, or used in stir-fries.
“There are a number of ways to eat it,” Hodgdon said.
“It’s also very appealing on vegetable platters, so raw with a dip. “
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