Welcome back to Beyond Broccoli (earlier parts here) where in this final edition we will finally get around to talking about broccoli (and its flowering friends).
Imagine you’re strolling through your vegetable garden in June (maybe a warmer June than we just had) and you notice that a lot of the brassica crops you planted in the spring look like this:
In fact, they are bolting. It’s a response to heat and other stresses; the plant will go to flower and then (assuming the flowers are successfully pollinated) will produce seed. Reproduction means, for the plant, that it’s been successful and can die happy. Of course for the gardener it doesn’t always mean success. We might have wanted that mizuna to produce lots more edible leaves before bolting. But before you yank out the plant and toss it on the compost pile, do me a favor. Snip off that little cluster of flower buds and eat it.
Welcome back to Beyond Broccoli, the brassica blog series! You can find previous entries here. In this edition we’re going to explore the plants in the genus Brassica that are grown for edible leaves.
I think the best place to start is on the shores of the Mediterranean. This is likely the home of the wild relatives of what became the domesticated forms of Brassica oleracea. They would have looked something like what we know as kale. The lineage of these wild plants is still fairly obscured, but if you want to read more about it check out this scholarly article.
The kales we grow today are actually not all one species. Most of them are Brassica oleracea var. acephala(or Acephala Group), but the super-hardy kales like Red Russian and Siberian are Brassica napus var. pabularia, related to rutabaga. Even the B. oleracea kales are amazingly varied, having been bred for millennia into forms with curly leaves, flat leaves, small or enormous leaves, leaves with blue and purple tints, the cabbagey-looking ornamental kale that landscapers plant at the corner to carry through the winter, and kale that forms stems taller than people that are made into walking sticks. (I wish we could grow that kind here, but our heat and humidity don’t agree with it. At least you can read about it.) My favorite kind to grow and eat is the blue bumpy type known as Tuscan, Lacinato, or Dinosaur kale.
Earlier this week, I finally took all the pepper plants out of my community garden plot, in anticipation of a predicted frost. It’s ridiculous that I was still harvesting peppers in November, but this is the world we live in.
The final plant to go was a variety called Aconcagua, which I bought seed for and planted for the first time this year. It’s a sweet fryer-type from Argentina that’s described as growing up to three feet tall and producing fruit up to a foot long. I didn’t get quite those results, though I will admit that I didn’t plant it in the best location in my plot (lots of thistle competition). It was, for sure, a big pepper plant, with fruit frequently at least six inches long, with a fresh fruity taste that was great in salads or fried.
Here’s my last harvest (in November, again! From one plant!).