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Gardening: Adventures in a Backyard Veggie Garden

The spiral heads of broccoli romanesco
The spiral heads of broccoli romanesco

February 12, 2007

Broccoli Romanesco: Nature Meets Art

It is high time for me to hunker down and order seeds for this spring’s garden, even if it is only early February. I like to order them early so that I can be sure to get the more popular varieties before they sell out. That has only happened to me once, when the tangy mesclun seed mix from The Cook’s Garden was gobbled up.

Speaking of mesclun, this year I am going to try growing butterhead lettuce along side a smaller patch of the tangy mixed greens, which include arugula, mustard, and chickory. A friend of mine across the Hudson grew some of the most succulent butterhead lettuce last year and when I saw them, I knew I would be adding some to my garden this year.

Another new addition will be brussels sprouts, which to my amazement are a favorite in my home, even with the kids. I am amazed because when I was little, brussels sprouts were high on the list of foods I would do anything to avoid. The truth is, when I was growing up, I hated most vegetables and only learned to love them much later in life.

The brussels sprouts I will plant this year will take up most of the area I devoted to romanesco broccoli last season. Both crops are slow-growing and mature best when the weather cools off in the fall.

Those of you who aren’t familiar with romanesco broccoli would do well to give them a try. The pale green head is a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. It forms such a beautiful spiral shape that I took several photos of their finery before picking them last October.

Last year was the first time I had planted romanesco broccoli and its growing habits take some getting used to.

First of all, the plants are quite big. Each stalk grows 2 1/2-to-3-feet in length and the foliage spreads out to the same width. Secondly, I thought my crop was a dud because the plants did not begin to form the edible portion until September, some two months after the regular broccoli produced flowerets.

Finally, each plant only produces one head. Though delicious, it wasn’t really a fair payoff in my small garden for the 24-square-foot area the six plants had taken over.

So this year, I am going to plant brussels sprouts where the romanseco broccoli once grew. The brussels sprouts are a vertical crop, with the small sprouts growing along a stem that shoots up, not out. Where I had three romanesco broccoli plants in a row, I can now plant four of the brusssel sprouts, for a total of eight plants and dozens of sprouts.

But even as I write these words I am thinking about the beauty of the romanesco flower. I still have a few seeds left from last year and what harm would it do to grow just one of those gorgeous spiral beauties?

lynnpeebles posted on 02/14/07 at 9:33 PM
Anyone inspired by the Editor's eloquent tribute to romanesco broccoli can find some delicious recipes featuring this beautiful and tasty veggie in the March issue of Bon Appetit. Romanesco, an heirloom variety from Italy, is arguably the most beautiful of all the cruciferous vegetables (some consider it a cauliflower). It not only looks and tastes good, it's a nutritional powerhouse! Thanks for reminding us of ways to bring healthy variety to our diets, and beauty to our gardens! Lynn Peebles


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