Hello fellow gardening enthusiasts!
As usual, things are busy in the gardens here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes in Poway, CA for the month of February. It is our least productive month as far as harvest, with expectations of about 1,000 lbs of fresh organic fruits and vegetables for our residents with memory care issues. Not only are we continuing plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, kale and lettuce, but we are now in prime time for our spring heavy hitters such as tomatoes and squash.
Mother Nature has blessed us with some crazy weather so far this year, but things are starting to normalize. We have experienced some El Nino conditions with a few heavy rains along with some strong gusty winds. Now we are in the middle of a slight heat wave with daytime temperatures in the low 90s. A couple of weeks ago we got nipped by a few frosts, but the tomatoes have been replanted and should be on our way to another productive spring harvest.
I get really excited in February when we get to start plantings of our spring crops, but we still have a good couple of months left to get in our winter favorites. Fresh tasty broccoli, kale and cauliflower are found on the dinner tables either as side dishes or in the form of various types of soups.
So let’s end the winter season with a bang and talk about final plantings of our favorite winter veggie- BROCCOLI!
Broccoli, Brassica oleracea, comes from the Italian diminutive form of broccolo, meaning “the flowering crest of a cabbage”. We are more familiar with the large flowerheads that we eat in various ways as a vegetable, but side shoots, the stalks and even the leaves can be used in the kitchen. It is a member of the cabbage family and has been around since the 6th century BC, derived from careful breeding programs in the northern Mediterranean area of Europe. Italians have enjoyed this vegetable since the time of the Roman Empire. It then found its way to England in the 18thcentury, and finally introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants in the 1920s.
There are basically three types of broccoli.
Sprouting broccoli has numerous small heads on thin stalks.
Purple cauliflower is a type of broccoli sold in Italy, Spain and the UK. The head is shaped like a cauliflower formed by tiny flower buds with generally a light purple cast.
The type that we are more familiar with is Calabrese Broccoli, originating from the Calabria region of Italy. It is a cool season annual crop with large green heads and thick stalks.
Broccoli does poorly in hot summer weather, especially as we experience here in Southern California. Temperatures between 65-75 degrees F produce beautiful large heads. When temperatures hit the 80s and higher, the heads will try to bolt, forming yellow flowers. This greatly affects the taste and timely harvest is important. In cool weather, there is less of a threat to flower and the flavor is much sweeter.
Broccoli requires being grown in rich fertile soils high in organic matter, sufficient fertilizer and moisture. Even though broccoli produce side shoots known as florets, you are striving to obtain the largest head possible. You can’t scrimp on the preparation of the soil. For a more detailed discussion on getting started, check out our November 2014 blog on “The Importance of Soil Preparation”. If you create a healthy growing medium to start your plants, all you will need to add are a few applications of fish fertilizer high in nitrogen such as Alaska Fish fertilizer 5-1-1 starting after about 30 days from planting.
Cutworms will be the first pests to attack your crop especially with fall plantings. Sprinkle Sluggo Plus after you pop the transplants in the ground. This will help with threats of snails and slugs as well. Be wary after rains.
Cabbage loopers are easily controlled with BT products.
Aphids can be washed off of the plants with a heavy stream of water or with the use of organic insecticidal soaps.
When the weather is still warm going into fall, the bagrada bug can cause lots of problems by devouring plants when present in large numbers. It’s best to cover your plants with row covers, inspect them every couple of days and pick them off. All of a sudden they will no longer be an issue. Some people say to spray with products containing spinosad. I can’t say that this has really worked for us, but I sleep better if I have applied something when necessary.
All of these products are readily available at your local home and garden centers.
We grow three different varieties of broccoli depending on the time of year from September through March.
Packman- This 57 day variety can handle the heat, so we plant this one in September and October then again in February and March. You should be able to get very large heads up to 8” from this vigorous variety along with robust side-shoot production. It is the quickest- to- harvest variety that we grow and a great way to end the broccoli season in February and March. Besides being fast with enormous heads, it is delicious!
Marathon- We use this variety following Packman in the fall from November through January. It is not as quick- to- harvest as Packman, but likes the cooler weather. They call this one a 65-75 day variety. Marathon is one of the most widely adapted varieties in California for cool weather production. The large, dense, blue-green heads have high, smooth, tight domes and very small, fine beads. The plants produce heavy heads with intermediate resistance to downy mildew.
Arcadia- We alternate plantings of this variety with Marathon in the coldest part of the year. It is a very vigorous variety with large, domed dark green heads with “frosted” highlights. It can easily withstand frosts making it a perfect selection for the dead of winter but also can handle the heat. It is resistant to head rot, brown head and downy mildew. Very yummy as well!
So since it is February, find some Packman Broccoli and end your cool season with a bang.
If you wish to see our gardens and get a good look at our cool season crops interspersed with our spring crops, reach me, Roy Wilburn, Horticulture Manager at Sunshine Care (858)472-6059 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to showing you our gardens.
If you wish to know more about Horticulture and Sunshine Care, please check out our website www.sunshinecare.com.
We also offer a free monthly garden lecture held on the third Saturday of the month at 10:30 am. This month, February 20th, our topic is very appropriate-“Still Time for More Winter Veggies, But Spring is Here!”
Door prizes, refreshments and tours of the gardens, orchards and greenhouse are part of our informative gatherings.
Hope to see you soon and good luck in the garden!