Broccolini is a trademarked hybrid between American standard broccoli and a Chinese broccoli called gailan. Instead of forming one large head it bears many small tender side shoots, which have a subtle sweet flavor with peppery overtones. Broccolini stems don’t have to be peeled. Some people praise broccolini for its taste and texture; others regard it as a temperature-sensitive and expensive fad crop.
How to Grow and Care for Broccolini
Broccolini, like other cole crops, prefers cool temperatures, moderately low acidity (soil pH 6.0 to 7.0), and plenty of water and nitrogen. Add a couple of inches of compost or well-rotted manure to your soil. If your soil is acidic, add a small handful of wood ashes around each broccolini transplant. Start seeds indoors and set them outside when they are 4-6 weeks old. Space transplants 24″ apart and set them 1/2″ deeper in the soil than they were in their pots. Spread grass clippings (from a lawn that’s not treated with herbicides) under them or direct seed clover after transplanting them to shade and enrich the soil and discourage weeds.
Since broccolini is a fairly new vegetable, optimal planting time is still being established. Some suggest planting as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. Others say that broccolini is cold sensitive and should not be set outside until after the last spring frost. You may want to experiment and see what works in your area. Broccolini can also be grown as a fall crop. Some say that broccolini performs less well when exposed to ‘extreme cold’ or to temperatures above 80 F.
Make sure your broccolini gets 1-2″ of water each week. You can spray plants with compost tea or diluted fish emulsion every fortnight to provide an extra nitrogen boost.
Harvest broccolini when the heads are fully formed but before they begin to flower. Cut long stems; the stem is as tasty as the florets. Leave green leaves on the plant and watch for new heads to form. You may get 3-5 sets of shoots from each plant in any given year.
Broccolini Pests and Problems
Broccolini is susceptible to the same problems as broccoli and other cole crops. To minimize pest and disease issues, don’t plant it in a place where broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale or their relatives have been grown in the last 4 years.
If your broccolini leaves curl, pucker and turn yellow, you may have an aphid or whitefly infestation. Look on the undersides of leaves for tiny soft-bodied green, brown or pink insects. Aphids can be handpicked or killed with organic insecticidal soap. Ladybugs eat aphids. Soap is the best remedy for whiteflies.
Ragged holes in leaves may be caused by the striped green caterpillars known as cabbage loopers or cabbage worms. Handpick them or spray with Bacillus thuringiensis. Slugs may also cause them. If you have a slug infestation, set water mixed with beer or yeast out in your garden in jars buried to the lip in soil. Slugs will be attracted to the smell, fall into the water and die. Many songbirds eat cabbage worms, and snakes eat slugs, so you may want to encourage birds and snakes.
Pinholes in your leaves are probably caused by flea beetles. Leaves chewed to the stem may be the work of vegetable weevils. Pyrethrum spray may control these pests. Pyrethrum is organic but toxic to bees–spray it in the evening when pollinators aren’t active.
Yellowish spots on leaves that grow white mold in wet weather indicate downy mildew. Dark patches specked with black dots on leaves and stems and wilted bluish or reddish leaves are the first warnings of black leg. Later on sunken patches girdle the stem and the whole plant topples over. If you catch either of these diseases early, try spraying an organic fungicide like copper or Bacillus subtilis. If they’re well advanced, remove and destroy (do not compost) affected plants.
Ways to Prepare Broccolini
Broccolini’s distinctive flavor is said to be strongest when it’s eaten raw. You can also cook it as you would broccoli. Put it in soups, steam it, stir-fry it alone or with carrots, peppers and mushrooms, chop it into calzone filling, or add it to your favorite casserole.
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Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of K. B. R.