We got our first big heads of broccoli in mid july, and have been continuing to harvest the smaller shoots since then. It’s been such a treat to watch our broccoli grow and really thrive this year. I tried to grow broccoli one of the first years that Ben and I were vegetable gardening in the late 1990s, and it did remarkably poorly. We bought and planted seedlings, but even still the plants remained quite small. We never got actual heads either–just a handful of little, skinny shoots that always seemed to be going to flower before we even knew they were there. I don’t think we got even one full meal out of those six, scrawny plants that summer. Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged, and in our gardens the following years I skipped the broccoli all together. As much as I’ve always loved broccoli, in my mind, it was one of those crops that took up way too much space for the amount of food it could provide to bother to plant it in our short-on-space home garden.
But, Ben used to spend summers at his family’s small farm not far from here–just outside of Augusta–and he recalls long rows of huge, beautiful, prolific broccoli plants. Not only did his family enjoy broccoli all summer, the plants produced enough for his mom to put up significant amounts for the winter. Aside from that, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Maine produces a significant commercial broccoli crop, and is considered to be one of the top broccoli producing states in the country. I finally had to come to terms with the fact that our broccoli problem was clearly not a problem with the broccoli…..rather, it was one of–ahem–user error, so to speak. What exactly the problem was I’ll never know for sure. But, I have a strong suspicion that it was connected to two of the most basic and most important components of the garden–good soil and plenty of water.
Given that all the other crops in our garden were so robust and produced so abundantly, I’m guessing that the location of the broccoli was really the issue. Our garden was on a slight slope, and I’d planted our broccoli at the upper most edge of the garden. Also, when we’d first turned over soil, it was quite clay-like and acidic. While we added lots of manure and compost to the garden in general, along with peat to lighten the soil and lime to reduce the acidity, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’d inadvertently shorted that upper edge of the garden, leaving it a bit under-nourished. What’s more, I can imagine that much of the rain that we got that summer simply couldn’t sink into the hard, still clay-heavy dirt in that top row, and instead washed downhill into the more yielding soils below.
Ah, well. Lessons learned. This year, with our return to broccoli these many years later, our crop is planted in well nourished soil in a prime spot in our garden. I’m happy to say that it is doing beautifully, and we are SO enjoying enjoying it (even when it shoots up into flower before we can get to it !) Thank goodness for second chances!