Friday, June 22, 2012

Broccoli in Containers

Tonight we had another harvest, this time in the form of broccoli! I thought it only fitting to pay homage to this tasty veggie, while also reviewing my experiences with it as a container garden plant. 

A tasty treat!
First, I’ll discuss the plusses. Most importantly, the broccoli was absolutely delicious! Its fist-sized crowns were tender, nutty, and sweet without a hint of bitterness. I chopped them up in chunks, and quickly sautéed them in about a teaspoon of olive oil, some minced garlic, salt, and pepper (my favorite way to sauté most veggies). Don’t forget to eat the stalk, especially on your homegrown broccoli, as it’s just as good as the crown! I just slice it up and toss it right in when cooking, or eat it raw. You can also eat the broccoli leaves, which taste a bit like collard greens, although they are somewhat bitter and unpleasant. I just throw them out.
The leaves are pretty, but a little bitter
Another plus was that the broccoli grew well in its slightly cramped planting (cramped according to the numbers you read online, anyway). I planted three broccoli plants in a 6.5 gallon container, and we got a really nice crown of broccoli from each plant. We harvested when we did because in this heat we’ve been having here (a few days of near 90 degrees) some of them were turning a troubling yellow color, meaning they were getting ready to flower—likely as soon as we went out of town for the weekend. I figured that I would rather taste them than try to squeeze another few days of growth out of them only to have them bloom. They were easy to grow, very tough plants, and the bluish leaves are pretty.

A full container, but 3 plants in a 6.5 gallon pot worked fine!
The only real negative I can share is that the harvest to space ratio is fairly poor for broccoli. The plants get pretty big, and once you harvest the crown you do get some side florets, but for most people the main harvest is going to be the bulk of what you get in terms of yield. In my case, I really needed room on the porch, so I just took the plants off the porch after harvesting the crowns. After weighing the benefit of a few side shoots against the large amount of horizontal space needed for the plants (not to mention the jungle that is growing out there) I decided that the main harvest would have to do this time around.
Would I recommend broccoli for container gardens? Well, it depends. If your space is somewhat limited, you have to consider that it will need a large container (at least 6 gallons in my opinion) and you will get a couple of nice broccoli crowns for the space you invest. Weight that against dozens of large tomatoes, squash, or peppers, or even hundreds of cherry tomatoes, and you’ll see what I mean by the harvest to space ratio. Also, the broccoli harvest is mostly a one-time harvest, whereas a tomato or pepper plant will give you continual harvests over a longer period of time. If you are like me and have a ton of different containers going, it’s a fun and tasty crop to grow. If you can only put out a few containers, you might be better served planting something that will continue to produce for you over a longer period of time, unless you really love broccoli. I think that when I am planning next year’s garden I might skip the broccoli, simply because the amount of it I would need to plant to realize a nice harvest would take up half the porch! 

Dinner time!
All in all, I would rate this plant a B- when it comes to container planting. It has an amazing flavor, it is easy to grow, it is pretty to look at, and it is fairly quick to produce. On the down side, it provides one main harvest and does take up a large amount of space for what you get in return.

I had toyed with the idea of planting more chard or some collards in the now vacant broccoli container, but I really need the space, as the tomatoes are now all over 4 feet tall and have become a jungle in the past 2 weeks. Ditto for the cucumber! I might transplant the patty pan squash I started a week ago from its 5 gallon pot into the square planter, but only if I can rearrange things to better take advantage of the little bit of space we have left.

Until next time, happy gardening!

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