This is a learning year. That's what I keep telling myself... So it turns out, we might not have much broccoli to sell this year. But we will have at least one head for dinner tomorrow night, and it has been very hard earned. This is the story of the little broccoli that could.
I love broccoli, it comes in early, it's beautiful. When it's young, it is tender and delicious. So, I wanted to get ours planted as soon as possible. It was one of the very first things I seeded in the greenhouse and it was the first thing we planted out in the main field. On my birthday (march 18th) we had a stroke of good weather and were able to work up some beds for early planting. That night, in the spirit of "hardening-off" the plants to prepare them for their new home, I left the broccoli outside under some row cover (it was supposed to be warm). It frosted... hard. Not everywhere, but some places, and definitely right were my delicate baby seedlings were resting. They looked so sad when I discovered them the next morning and their little lifecycle was majorly set back. Set back number one.
When we set up the first beds we put down drip irrigation to keep the plants watered under the plastic mulch. I had never used drip before, so we only put down one line of tape (per recommendation from the distributor). So I put my broccoli in and turned on the water (you're only supposed to need 1 hour of water a day using drip irrigation). The plants wilted. They looked awful. Their necks laid down on the plastic and their leaves curled. I couldn't get enough moisture to their roots. For days I struggled with the water before ultimately feeding in by hand one hole at a time new lines of drip tape to reach each plant. Our heavy clay soil clings to water and so it doesn't spread from a center drip the way it would in sandier, lighter soil. The broccoli suffered mightily through that little learning experience.. Set back number two.
After the water was under control we had a weekend in April where the temperature dropped back down in to the teens. I covered the broccoli with as much row cover as I could muster. They got frosted AGAIN! It was so sad. Their little leaves turned white and shriveled.. Set back number three.
Then the flea beetles discovered my tender crop and the wind picked up. Our main field is on a hill top and the gusts can be unbelievable. Several of the broccoli broke off at the stalk from wind damage and several more lost most of their leaves to beetle damage. Set back yet again..
But amazingly, a few weeks ago, the plants finally starting picking up steam. The weather improved we had a week of sunny, cool, calm weather (which broccoli loves). All of the sudden we have a crop, they're big and leafy and forming heads. Hallelujah! I'm so proud of my little guys, they did it, through all of the trials and tribulations.
BUT it's not over yet. It is getting hotter quickly, broccoli hates the heat. And, this broccoli is well beyond is life cycle, it should have already produced and be done. So, we'll see. We may not get much of a broccoli crop for sale this year. But we will get at least one broccoli head to eat as a family and I will relish every bite!
So, if you manage to get one of our broccoli heads from the farm stand, please eat with appreciation and love for a hard row hoed. Also, I'll do better next year :)