Planting Sprouting Broccoli and Taking a Tumble

We have been preparing a bed that we let go fallow after the wartime garden, this was one of the first beds we pressed in to service during those three years of living hand to mouth; subsequently it was a sorry sight in the fourth year. The last crop that went in there was turnips and they showed the soil was spent so we piled on a thick layer of compost and covered in cardboard. This week we peeled back the cardboard and hoed out any weeds that had made it through, there was a lot of dead matted grass beneath the cardboard which came off easily. We are considering a new way of composting which is to pile any cuttings, weeds and crops gone over in hillocks at the bottom of each bed and cover over, before doing so we wet down with water and a nitrogen accelerator (known as urine) to get the decaying process going (see rocket fuel urine). This avoids humping around barrow after barrow, and may have avoided the accident we tell you about at the end of this (in the spirit of Douglas Adams, we'd like to point out that no one died and therefore there is no need for anxiety, the result of the accident is a bruised leg and some scratched arms). It didn't take long to clear this old war bed and the soil was full of life every time we uncovered some of the soil. We have decided to plant sprouting broccoli here, for August is the month for planting sprouting broccoli for harvest from January-May in the following year. This a hunger gap crop and needs to be planted in firmly, before winter you need to earth them up a little and add stakes if you're in an exposed area and suffer from wind (this may have more to do with brussel sprouts and Christmas meals). Don't forget to net them if you have pigeons in the area because frankly they'll eat it all.

Planting Sprouting Broccoli and Taking a Tumble

You plant sprouting broccoli about 75cm (30 inches) apart because these plants will get big. When they start growing watch out for your first foe of late summer, the cabbage white butterfly which lays its yellow eggs which erupt into a horde of green caterpillars; they leave nothing before moving on and on, relentlessly munching. Netting again will prevent the caterpillars getting to the crop. Also grow them under cover first to create strong plants and cut out a meal for slugs. Sprouting broccoli is often confused with Calabrese, and the argument runs along the lines of: 'It isn't broccoli, it's Calabrese', What's the difference? 'Er...' Let's get rid of some of that anxiety, Calabrese and broccoli are from the same family, they are brassicas. Calabrese is a cool season crop, meaning it will grow during those cooler months, and produces thick stalks and green heads - it is the most commonly sold crop in the UK under the name of broccoli -- and it is a broccoli because it's full title is Calabrese broccoli. Sprouting broccoli produces thin stalks and purplish heads. Sprouting broccoli however isn't that common in supermarkets, we do not know why but suspect due to the thin stalks they go limp before their Calabrese cousins and have a shorter shelf life. Both can be sown from April onwards, the latest you can sow them is May, and if you have missed the boat this year your local nursery may have some plants ready for open ground. Traditionally, sprouting broccoli is in the ground for August.

The difference between sprouting broccoli and calabrese is surprising

However, even though Calabrese and Sprouting broccoli are cousins there are differences. Calabrese grows faster -- another reason the supermarkets love it -- Calabrese can be planted in spring too and give you a crop in the same year. In other words you could get a summer crop out of Calabrese compared to Sprouting broccoli which is Spring the following year. Calabrese is also a larger head in comparison to Sprouting broccoli. Calabrese is also milder in taste. Now, here's the real difference, you cannot plant Calabrese in August unless you are willing to cover it because this plant is not tough, those thick stalks hit by a frost will turn to mush. This means that sprouting broccoli can be harvested throughout the year but Calabrese needs a warm summer to get going. Broccoli in Italian means 'little sprouting heads' but the supermarkets are confusing us all by passing Calabrese off as traditional broccoli, to get traditional broccoli you need to turn to August planted varieties that produce purple heads and grow slowly.

How plant sprouting broccoli

You can fill a bed with sprouting broccoli easily at this time of year but remember the more you plant, the more stakes and nets you will need. You'd think planting sprouting broccoli would be easy, here comes the tale about the accident, remember what we said, no one died but there was a bruise or two and some scratches. Andrew took a tumble when top dressing the sprouting broccoli with blood, fish and bone. Coming down the path by the glasshouse he tripped, narrowly missing the wheelbarrow, tossing the blood, fish and bone in the air as he went, giving his hair and face a lovely graying effect with the top dressing, and ended up face down in the hedge. He's okay, glad he missed a nettle patch and some concrete flags broken up ready for hardcore. He twisted and bruised his right calf muscle, for a moment as he lay in the hedge swearing like a docker, he thought he'd broken it. His arms are scratched from the hedge and he is a little shaken but thankfully the hedge broke his fall and nothing was broken but when you have spinal damage any fall is a cause for concern. So, it was inside, stripped of muddy clothes and into a hot bath followed by anti-inflammatory medication and some painkillers. He's a little annoyed at himself for falling but he'll recover and hopefully so will the hedge which has an Andrew shaped dent in it.


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