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Bodacious Broccoli

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Broccoli (brassica oleracea) flourishes in north central Texas between now and late December’s killer freezes.  It is too late to germinate seeds and get a second season crop, but not too late to plant a six pack of little starts from the local plant nursery.

The starts need a sunny spot.  Broccoli can manage in partial shade, but its growth will be slowed.  The goal is to give the plants 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily.

And give ‘em elbow room.  Plant broccoli starts 18” apart, and at least 24” between rows.  For the arithmetically impaired that’s a foot and a half between plants, and 2 feet between rows.  The mature vegetables will use every inch of that space.

First the stem and leaves will undergo explosive growth then a small green flower head will emerge at the center of the plant.  The flower will increase in size until it looks like the luscious broccoli heads in the grocery store produce department.

Let the flower head grow until its clumped buds begin to spread apart, but be forewarned it is hard to resist harvesting before that stage.  Use a sharp knife to cut the flower off at an angle so water slides off the remaining stump.

After you remove that first delicious flower head from the plant, smaller heads will grow from its axils.

“Axels?” you say, “But this isn’t an auto repair article.”

No, in botany a plant “axil” is the upper angle between its leaf stem and the stalk from which the leaf grows.  If you stand on your head then spread your arms –pretending to be a plant– your armpits would be your axils.

Harvest the smaller broccoli heads right up until a hard freeze kills the plant.

Your taste buds are in for a treat.  Just steam the fresh heads for 5 minutes until they turn gorgeous green then add a bit of melted butter, a sprinkle of salt, and serve.  Who knew something so green could be so delicious?

After the plants die put them in the compost heap.

To germinate broccoli seeds for a spring/summer crop, sow them indoors in the middle of January for a mid-February to early March transplanting.  If that sounds too much like work just buy another 6 pack of healthy little starts available around Valentine’s Day.

Spring planted broccoli will produce flower heads into the summer heat, but the flavor turns bitter, and the head shape deteriorates as the mercury kisses the century mark.

Rotate your crop location every couple of years to prevent build up of unwelcome microbiological visitors in your soil, and remember broccoli plants are living things that thrive on food and water year round.

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