backyard gardens / Urban agriculture

Broccoli: Do You Know How It Grows?

Broccoli BudsIf you are a beginner at gardening like I am, you might not be familiar with the appearance of certain vegetable plants. You may be able to identify a large variety of them, but if you live in a city like I do, it is unlikely that you are able to grow your own produce and therefore you may be unaware of how some of your vegetables grow. It was not until I took NYU’s Urban Agriculture class that I became familiar with the appearance and life cycle of certain vegetables, and of all the produce growing at the beginning of the 2014 Fall semester, I was most fascinated by broccoli. An impressive plant, it is large and cabbage looking, but even more extraordinary to me was watching the plant change drastically from one day to the next; from the buds we are used to seeing into multiple little yellow flowers blooming instead.

Did you know that the little green bulbs found on broccoli are actually unopened flower buds? It turns out that under certain conditions such as high heat exposure and under watering, broccoli plants can flower prematurely, but in general, even under the most appropriate conditions, as the plant reaches the end of its life it will attempt to reproduce before it dies (this is called going to seed). By creating flowers, a broccoli plant will attract pollinators, which allow it to create seeds (through this pollination process). This process can be delayed in order to extend the plant’s lifespan and prolong the production of broccoli bulbs, to do this a farmer or gardener will clip off the flowers as soon as they emerge.

Broccoli FlowersTo a farmer looking to sell broccoli for as long as possible in order to make the highest amount of profit, it is no surprise that he/she would prune the plant’s flowers, but if you are a home gardener looking to grow broccoli for yourself and/or your family, if your broccoli plant begins to flower, it might be a good idea to just let it do its thing. That’s what we chose to do at the NYU farm not only because attracting pollinators benefits the land, but also because the flowers are delicious and pretty to look at too. With their mild broccoli flavor, they can be a great addition to salads or other cold plates.

While I enjoyed munching on these raw beauties on their own every time I was at the farm, I also took some home and experimented with several recipes that I both came up with and found online. One of my favorites was a simple salad from a blogger named Foodie Two Shoes. You can find the recipe here.

In conclusion, from my experiences this year working at the NYU farm, I have learned that while farming can be extremely unpredictable, it can also lead to positively unexpected harvests that are both delicious and also unavailable even at farmers markets! (at least I’ve never seen broccoli flowers at one before)! We certainly did not plan to have our broccoli plants flower at the farm, but that’s what’s fun about farming. In the end we were provided with a learning experience and a great product that we can use in our homes and possibly one day market to restaurants in the city. Now doesn’t that make you want to start your own garden? I know I sure do.

By: Jasmine Raymer

Sources:
http://www.gardenguides.com/90097-flowers-broccoli-sprouts.html

A list of other edible flowers:
http://www.khwgarden.org.uk/downloads/FS15Edible_Flowers.pdf
http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/42-flowers-you-can-eat/page2.html

Recipe Image From: http://foodytwoshoes.com/2012/08/14/broccoli-flower-salad/

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