By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Shelley Swenson, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
January and February’s cool to cold rainy weather hardly brings gardening to mind for most Wakulla County residents. The garden seed catalogs are arriving daily in the mail, but they have photos of spring flowers and vegetables.
Lucky gardeners who planted in the autumn can now have a tasty flower which is considered as a green vegetable by many. Broccoli florets are now ready for harvesting in many Florida panhandle gardens!
This distinctive member of the cabbage family has a long and storied past going back over 2,600 years. As a successful cold weather crop, it was sometimes the only fresh menu alternative in the days before modern transportation and marketing. The local cool season conditions provide an ideal environment for growing broccoli. If planted in rich, well-drained soil and watered as need, this vegetable is a high yielding, low maintenance crop.
The broccoli grown in the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Demonstration Garden was planted in raised beds filled with compost. The transplants were put in the ground on November 29, 2014. The only activity was to water these plants as needed, and there was no freeze protection during the December and January temperature dips. No insect treatment was needed during this period as they were dormant.
In addition to its hardy winter nature, broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It has a generous supply of vitamin C and many other nutrients. Recent research has indicated this vegetable has compounds important to eye health and anti-cancer properties. Preparation methods can affect the availability of these health inducing compounds. Broccoli is often served raw in salads or on snack trays. Additionally, it can be boiled, stir fried, microwaved or steamed.
In addition to ease of production and the health benefits, this vegetable has a connection to the cinematic spy James Bond, agent 007. The early Bond movies were produced by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, whose ancestor was an Italian plant breeder. He helped refine the vegetable known today in America and Europe as broccoli. This variety is one of three commonly known broccoli varieties and is sometimes known a Calabrese broccoli. Other varieties are common to European and Asian consumers, but are rare in America as there is no demand for them.
This vegetable originated in the northern Mediterranean region and slowly made its way to western Europe. It came to America with the influx of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century, but did not gain wide acceptance until the 1920’s. Northeast Florida is home to commercial winter broccoli production and the major domestic supplier in winter. Mexico supplies much of the western U.S. during winter. California and other states move into fresh broccoli production when it is too warm in Florida.
Most of the worlds’ broccoli production occurs in China and India. Most of their crop is consumed locally as their diets contain a much higher percentage of vegetables.
To learn more about the growing broccoli and other winter vegetables in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco or call 850-926-3931.