Don't tell these little broccoli seedlings, but this might be their last chance in my garden. Let me explain.
I *love* broccoli. I love it steamed and tossed with toasted sesame oil, garlic, and red chile flakes. I love it roasted until the edges become charred and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. But I don't love growing it. See, broccoli, being a member of the cold-tolerant Brassica family (think collards, kale, and mustard greens), is often given as a spring planting recommendation. But spring weather in Washington, DC is inconsistent at best...and broccoli requires consistently cool weather for that tasty flower crown to form properly. When the temperature starts to climb in May, broccoli gets really unhappy. Since 'Packman' is one of the fastest maturing varieties available, I'm giving it this one last chance to see if it can beat the heat.
My broccoli love runs so deep that I've grown several other forms of broccoli in my garden:
I first read about purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) in How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding. Unlike the broccoli we're used to seeing at the grocery store, PSB doesn't form a large flower crown, but multiple slender shoots that look more like broccolini. You plant it in the fall, it overwinters (it's cold-hardy to 10F), and you harvest it in the spring. Broccoli leaves are edible too and I cook them the same as collards and kale.
I first tasted Chinese broccoli at dim sum, served with oyster sauce. It's more of a leaf vegetable which is why it's also called Chinese kale. I started these seedlings under growlight in February so that they would be ready for planting out in the garden in mid-March. Chinese broccoli is both cold and heat tolerant (valuable traits for our inconsistent spring weather) and it still tastes great if some of the flowers open before harvest.
Broccolini is a cross between regular broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It's grown for its slender flower stalks. I was considering planting it again this spring because it matures faster than most regular broccoli varieties, but I decided instead to see if 'Packman' and I can make it work.
Broccoli raab is not actually a broccoli at all, but turnip greens that make broccoli-like flowers. It grows quickly from seed and has excellent cold tolerance, so it's perfect for planting in March. The secret to cooking it is to blanch the leaves and flower stalks in salted water before adding it to your recipe, which removes the bitter taste.
PSB is already growing in my garden, having overwintered from the fall (pictured above). I hope to plant 'Packman,' Chinese broccoli, and broccoli raab next week. The 10-day forecast calls for below freezing temperatures and snow, so we'll have to wait and see.