BOTANICAL NAME: Brassica oleracea. The name brassica comes from a Celtic word for cabbage, with oleracea meaning ‘vegetable-like’.
ORIGIN: Native to Europe’s western coast, broccoli is a descendant of kale. It was developed for market gardening in Italy in the last 150 years.
DESCRIPTION: Heading and sprouting are the two different types of broccoli. Heading types take longer to mature and prefer colder areas.
Sprouting broccoli grows well in summer in southern Australia and in winter in warmer areas of Australia. It has two growth habits; one with a central head, and one that produces numerous small flower heads along the stalk (e.g. the sprouting Calabrese).
While green broccoli is the most recognisable these days, purple broccoli used to be the more common of the two.
CULTIVATION: It’s important not to over-manure or you will end up with lots of leaves and small heads.
To ensure a large seed crop, split the fertilisation between planting time and mid-season.
Keep on top of harvesting sprouting broccoli, as it will keep sending up side shoots whose flowers quickly open. For seed production, let the shoots go to seed.
SAVING THE SEEDS: A biennial, if broccoli is planted in warmer climates it will produce seeds in only one growing season.
Leave at least two adjacent plants flowering next to the one you want to save (as broccoli is cross-pollinated and individual plants are normally self-sterile). This is to ensure seed formation and will help conserve as many characteristics as possible.
Broccoli will cross with cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. Two kilometres separation is recommended.
For long-term maintenance of a variety, allow half a dozen broccoli plants to go to seed together.
You’ll end up with stronger seeds if you don’t harvest the heads for the table.
The buds will turn into a thick, tall mass of yellow flowers. Pods will form, turning yellow then brown, although not all simultaneously.
When most pods are dried and the seeds rattle within, cut off the whole bush and hang in a dry place for two weeks, with a large sheet of paper or canvas below. Thresh out the seed and dry for a fortnight or until completely dry. To separate chaff and seed, use a screen or sieve.
STORAGE: The seeds, with 300 seeds to a gram, will last up to five years.
USE: Regular consumption of broccoli is said to help lower blood pressure and reduce obesity. Broccoli is also said to have anti-carcinogenic properties. There are many recipes for broccoli, which is delicious eaten hot or cold. The flowers are edible in salads and as garnishes.
Taken from The Seed Savers’ Handbook by Jude and Michel Fanton (Seed Savers’ Network 1993)