Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Broccoli time is here!

We harvested 18 heads of broccoli this year and I didn’t freeze any.
For our family, I cook about two heads per meal. That will usually leave some leftovers for lunches.
Preparing our broccoli begins in the garden. We garden pretty much organically. We use our own horse manure for fertilizer and leftover hay for mulch.
Avoiding cabbage worms can be done in three stages in the garden. The first stage is to deter the moths from landing and laying eggs on your brassicas (cabbages, broccoli, etc.) by coating your plants with something nasty. Spray the plants to wet them and sprinkle with ashes, lime or diatomaceous earth. Reapply after rain and wash off before eating. The local farmers favor ashes and lime, but both affect the pH of the soil. I favor diatomaceous earth. It also works wonders on most soft bodied and hard shelled insects. It is totally non-toxic to mammals if consumed or touched, but as with any dust, you don’t want it in your lungs. Wear a dust mask when spreading any dust, ashes and lime included, and stand up wind while dusting. It will also kill bees, so be careful about using it around blossoms. Be sure to get the food grade, as opposed to horticultural which is often stored next to insecticides and pool grade which has been heat treated and is not effective.
The second stage of worm prevention is to attack the eggs. In years past, I purchased Trichogramma wasps, but haven’t recently. “Trichogramma destroy eggs of over 200 pest moth species (cutworms, fruitworms, leaf worms, leafrollers, loopers, armyworms, borers etc.), preventing ravenous worms (caterpillars) from hatching out and devouring crops. These pale yellow micro-wasps, 1/100 inch long, smaller than a pinhead, drill through moth eggs to deposit 1-3 of their own eggs.” (http://www.rinconvitova.com/trichogr.htm) Also be alert for any worms that have already been parasitized. Let them live to hatch out native wasps.
The third stage of worm prevention is to attack the worm. I have used Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt) for over 30 years. It is sold under the trade names Thuricide and Dipel. “Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) occurs naturally in the soil and on plants. Different varieties of this bacterium produce a crystal protein that is toxic to specific groups of insects. Bt has been available in North America as a commercial microbial insecticide since the 1960s and is sold under various trade names. These products have an excellent safety record and can be used on crops until close to the day of harvest. Bt can be applied using conventional spray equipment but, because the bacteria must be eaten to be effective, good spray coverage is essential.” http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol/pathogens/bacteria.html
I make up a spray with Bt and add a wetting agent, molasses is good. I spray all sides of the plants and leaves and follow immediately with a dusting of diatomaceous earth. Do this at least once a week and after every rain.
When the broccoli reaches my kitchen, I put it head down in a bucket and give it a good sprinkling with salt. Then I fill the bucket with enough cold water to cover the heads. I shake out the heads in the bucket then rinse under cold water. Drain on paper towel and pack in bags to store in the refrigerator. It will keep a couple of days. If it ripens faster than you can use it, blanch and freeze it. When I take it out to use it, I cut it into spears and examine each floret carefully for a stubborn worm.
My daughter and I like the broccoli stalks. When I have this many available at one time, I can save them up to make brocco-slaw. Otherwise the stems are peeled and steamed with the spears. Broccoli should never be mushy. Steam it until it is bright jade green and a fork will barely pierce it.
Fresh broccoli is sooo good. My son, Patrick, only likes it raw. When I cook it, I leave some raw for him.
Home grown and frozen broccoli beats the quality of store bought chopped frozen broccoli hands down - no more tough stems to try and chew – and all the deluxe spears you can eat.

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