Groundwork: Going for broccoli
Editor's note: Adrian Higgins has filed his post early and quite generously, so all you gardeners can take advantage over the Memorial Day weekend.
One of the great things about getting to know a vegetable garden and its keepers is learning the rhythm of the year. Now is the time to sow beans, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, okra, zucchini, corn and squash, and also the moment to set transplants of the nightshade family, tomato, pepper and eggplant. It is also a great time to sow carrot and parsnip seed, the former to be taken in late summer and fall, the latter anytime after frost.
The other great value of observing a local garden is in recognizing that preconceived ideas about what will and won't grow here are sometimes misconceived. Take the cabbage family, which gardeners call collectively the brassicas. They perform well here, even in the heat and humidity of the Washington garden, if they are well along before Memorial Day. Start them from seed in mid-February (this year, the perfect antidote to the blizzard), set them in the greenhouse or cold frame in March and plant them out in the garden in April.
Voila: Less than two months later they are beginning to crop.
If you missed the boat, you can start the process again in July for a fall harvest. That's the beauty of living in a climate that permits a long growing season for vegetables.
The first harvest is of the broccoli, now heading nicely and showing no desire to bolt. Take the head before the buds begin to open, and cut carefully to leave the lateral flowerheads forming at the base of the terminal head. The flowerheads will develop over the next month or six weeks to provide secondary, if smaller heads for the cook.
At that point, yank the broccoli and plant some beans for fall, maybe runner beans at that.
Cindy Brown and the gardeners at Green Spring Gardens in Northern Virginia are growing a broccoli named Imperial, a large-headed variety, and Nutri-bud, with smaller heads but considered highly nutritious.
Cindy introduced me to a non-heading type of broccoli named Spigariello or leaf broccoli, which grows as large or bigger than the others (in other words, not a puny rabe type) and yet it is grown for the leaf. It is treated as kale, eatern raw young and otherwise cooked, lightly.
Cauliflower is always "iffy" in our gardens. It simply doesn't like the heat and when stressed by the gathering warmth of May, the developing curd or head will distort and bolt. Some of the cauliflower plants in the brassica bed are heading nicely, but one has begun to gyrate in an ugly fashion. The cabbages, on the other hand, are looking downright debonair, especially Red Acre and the heat-tolerant Savoy, with its crinkled leaves.
In a bed of just 8 by 12 feet, Cindy and Donna Stecker have grown 40 brassicas, and all of them surprisingly free of their bane, the cabbage white butterfly worm, which can turn the most robust cabbage into lace. Cindy said they policed the plants early and in two separate hand pickings, removed the green caterpillars. That seems to have done the trick, the leaves look wonderfully unblemished. The new deer fence probably helps.
The knack to growing vegetables is a continual and simultaneous giving and taking. Late spring proves the point. On the harvest side of the equation, apart from broccoli, the garden is offering garden peas, snap and snow peas, plus big, end-of-spring lettuces, kohlrabi, radishes, kale and parsley, to name a few.
On the planting side, the gardener is safe in installing tomato plants. There is no one system of support. Each tomato-whisperer has his or her own method. One of the most effective, employed at Green Spring, is the stake-and-cage approach. The young plant is tethered loosely to a central pole but is enveloped in a 5-or-6-foot cage that will keep the vine supported as it matures and spreads. Most tomato cages are woefully too small for their duty. The gardeners at Green Spring use six-inch metal mesh (made to reinforce concrete) coiled into six-foot heights. It's ugly but effective.
The key to good tomato cultivation is sanitation, and some of the common blunders consist of setting plants too close together, which reduces airflow and compounds disease problems. You also must remove the lower leaves as they discolor from things such as early blight and leaf-spot diseases, and you should mulch your tomatoes and water them by the roots, not the leaves.
In a large bed, Cindy is growing just three plants: Glacier, a compact, early season slicing tomato that wants to flower the minute you stick it in the ground. (Disbud for a week or two to keep the plant vigorous). The second is Granny Cantrell's, a Kentucky heirloom beefsteak that is big, pink and renowned for its flavor. The last is Eva's Purple Ball.
I've grown none of those, by the way, although Cindy raves about Eva, a German heirloom variety from the early 19th century. It's just the right size with a purple glow, great disease resistance for an antique, and yields fruit that doesn't crack. Oh, and it's highly productive. "I love her," says Cindy.
But what to do with the broccoli harvest? Cindy has an idea that involves strawberries.
-- Adrian Higgins (Follow me on Twitter.)
Broccoli Salad With Strawberries
Broccoli is a reliable winter vegetable, but it's a less obvious seasonal choice in the spring. Too bad, because spring is when broccoli is harvested locally and shows up in farmers markets.
At first the salad ingredients may seem like an odd hodgepodge, but the combination of textures, colors and flavors meld to create a harmonious fusion.
1 pound broccoli florets, broken into bite-size pieces
Leaves from about 9 stems parsley, chopped (1/3 cup)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon (1 tablespoon; reserve remaining lemon for another use)
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 pint strawberries, cut into thin slices (1 scant cup)
1/4 cup blanched, slivered almonds, toasted (see NOTE)
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3 cups cooked red quinoa
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Carefully drop the broccoli florets into the boiling water. Cook for about 3 minutes until just tender. Drain and immediately rinse with cold water until the broccoli cools down. Spread the cooked, cooled broccoli florets out to dry on a clean dish towel.
Combine the parsley, lemon zest, honey, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste in a large salad bowl; stir to combine. Slowly whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture. Add the broccoli florets; toss gently to coat. Add the sliced strawberries, toasted almonds and crumbled cheese; toss gently to combine.
To serve, place a 1/2 cup of quinoa on each plate and top with a serving of the broccoli salad.
NOTE: Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat; it should take about 4 minutes for the nuts to pick up a light brown color.
Per serving: 280 calories, 9 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
May 28, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Groundwork , Recipes | Tags: Adrian Higgins, Cindy Brown, Groundwork
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