I have finally found an open pollinated, or non-hybrid, broccoli variety that is worth growing in my garden. It has produced nice, big first heads (truly the diameter of a child’s head) and many good sized side shoots (most approximately 3 inches across). This is such a relief after the previous non-hybrid broccolis I had planted. Those disappointing plants only developed heads the size of small jawbreakers and were a pain to harvest. It seemed these previous plants didn’t want to produce very many at once, either. I had been growing some hybrid broccoli successfully at the same time, so I don’t think it was the weather or my technique. But now, I have found Thompson broccoli.
My success with this new open pollinated broccoli was in spite of numerous problems, from garden pests to severely interrupted garden efforts. I didn’t get off to a very good start because of ant invasions that decimated my spring planting of the Thompson broccoli. In late June, though, I got stubborn and replanted in the same location and kept dumping diatomaceous earth on any ants. I ended up with a couple of good plants surviving into adulthood.
Then, the aphids came. Generally, I can keep aphids on broccoli at bay. A regular spraying with insecticidal soap usually gets the broccoli through the worst of it, then in late summer to early fall the plants continue to produce nicely. The insecticidal soap also wards off the little, green caterpillar offspring of the white cabbage moth. But this year, a more frequent camping schedule requested by my husband, followed closely with my mother being diagnosed with an aggressive and terminal brain cancer in August, meant that the broccoli was left to fend for itself.
When I wandered out to my garden now and then, to pick something random for a dinner, I saw that the hybrid Arcadia broccoli, a long time reliable favorite, was infested with aphids and so far gone to seed that dead-heading for further production was pointless. However, the Thompson broccoli had a beautiful, giant head of broccoli on one plant. Unfortunately, something interfered with me cutting it right then. A few days later, it was opening into pretty, yellow flowers. Being more interested in tasting than seed production at the moment, I did dead-head this plant in hopes of further production.
I went back out a few days later and found the other of the plants now sporting it’s own beautiful head. I got right to harvesting it, as well as several side shoots from both plants. There was no visual evidence of aphids, but I soaked all of the broccoli in a salt water solution for about 30 minutes which dislodged some cabbage worms of various sizes. (click on any photo to enlarge)
And we cooked and ate the broccoli for dinner. One daughter did find a tiny cabbage worm still, which she casually put to one side. Her dad, Wild Greg, kindly pointed out that since all it had eaten was broccoli, it probably tasted just like broccoli… She chose to skip knowingly testing this hypothesis. What we can verify is that the broccoli itself tasted fabulous!
I have left some of the Thompson broccoli to go to seed now. I think next year I will experiment with trying to get my broccoli plants started in the greenhouse and grown much larger before planting them out. Maybe I’ll even work up to gallon pots in an effort to beat the ants.
I don’t have anything against hybrid seeds and plants. They definitely have their uses, but seed saving has a unique potential, and is, after all, how gardens have been kept going for many a past year.