It took me a long time to give broccoli a place in my garden. It seemed like such a large plant for such a small harvest. All those leaves and such a small edible head; not worth the space it would take up in my small patch where space is premium. Or so I thought.
When my kids were small, I used to tell them that ‘eat your broccoli’ was Mummy-speak for ‘I love you’ because broccoli is full of goodness. It’s high in vitamins C and K, iron, potassium and has a fair amount of protein along with a good dose of fibre. The kids were never convinced but eventually learnt to not leave it on the plate.
I don’t know why I decided to give it space in the garden. Perhaps something to do with the luscious look of the dark green leaves. Or maybe because it has always been such a staple in family meals and I feel there is something about growing a vegetable myself that brings a deeper appreciation of it.
Whatever the reason, last autumn I planted eight broccoli seedlings. They grew big dark green leaves in abundance. I’m told the leaves are edible, similar to kale, although tougher. But I decided not to eat the leaves but rather to let them and do their photosynthetic best to pump nutrients into the heads. I picked a few outer leaves for the chooks, much to the chooks’ delight.
In time, and it takes considerable time, the heads grew large enough to harvest. They did this in an agreeably staggered fashion, so rather than having eight heads of broccoli ready to harvest in one day, I had a steady supply of broccoli over a few weeks. I harvested them by cutting the heads and leaving the mass of leaves, planning to continue to use them as chook food.
This is the point where broccoli starts getting generous. Just when you’d think the plants were spent and had done there thing, tiny shoots sprouted from beneath where I had cut the heads. Very soon I was harvesting an abundance of these shoots – just like broccolini. The plants gave and gave and gave. And then gave some more. Eventually even I didn’t want to eat it. As spring sprung in the garden, my enthusiasm for picking the broccoli waned. Some began to flower; the tight green buds bursting forth in small, pale yellow flowers. The bees now joined the broccoli feast, fossicking among the flowers and flying off laden with golden pollen.
It’s time now for the broccoli plants to make way for new spring seedlings. I pulled the first of them out and gave it to the chooks. They clucked and pecked and dined delightedly. The broccoli just keeps on giving. Henceforth, broccoli will always have a place in my winter garden, its generosity amply rewards for the space it takes.