This week I’ve been been picking the broccoli-like shoots of a quick-growing vegetable known in its Southern Italian homelands as Broccoletti and elsewhere as Rapini. As seed in local shops and garden centres it comes, pre-packed, as Broccoli raab ’60 days’. Five hundred magic pieces cost the same as a loaf of sliced bread. The returns, by way of the pleasure derived from cultivating and eating these vitamin and mineral rich ’greens’, is considerable. Raw or steamed, everything is edible including stems, leaves, buds and yellow blooms. The mild mustardy taste is arguably at its succulent best when flowers are on the cusp of opening.
Broccoli raab ‘60 days’ can be sown a little and often directly into soil from February through until September / October. Early and late sowings will perform better if afforded the protection of a cloche. This might be a small wire tunnel of stretched horticultural fleece or clear plastic, or fleece simply laid on top but weighted at the corners (a ’floating mulch’).
Seeds sown in the peak growing season are frequently ready to crop within six or seven weeks. A sunny patch of the garden is recommended but partial shade is wholly appropriate for raising Broccoli raab ’60 days’ in high-summer. Every weed and remnant of root must be studiously removed and the soil broken into a fine and crumbly medium with a rake to create a crumb-like ’tilth’. Any well-rotted manure or compost incorporated into the top 25cm or so at this time will only improve returns.
Mark the rows with string tied tight between two canes and, when planning to establish more than one parallel row, allow 30cm between. Then, using the string as a guide, take out a 1.5cm deep drill right along the length of each row with your finger tip. A drill is simply a shallow trench which will receive the seeds.
The drill is best thoroughly moistened before sowing with a gentle but consistent dribble from a can. I find this important aspect of seed-sowing preparation is much easier to execute accurately if the can is only half-full to start with. It is far less unwieldy that way. Keeping the sprinkler attachment which fits on the end of the spout (correctly but confusingly called a ’rose’) in place also assists with manipulating the flow. Once the pre-moistened drill has absorbed its ration of the good stuff, sowing demands unhurried concentration.
Broccoli raab ‘60 days’ seeds are tiny brown spheres, very much like the turnip (to which raab is closely related). Even and measured sowing is helpful in ensuring the contents of a pack go further and that future thinning out of seedlings is less wasteful. If you’re a leftie like me, cup the seeds in the palm of your right hand and take a pinch between thumb and first-finger of your left. By rolling them softly together you should be able to deposit the embryonic pieces more or less one at a time.
Germination can be swift in June. After a few days it is sensible to remove weak and overcrowded specimens so that the fledgling plants are not touching. Further thinning affords ever more room for the seedlings to grow. In rich, fertile ground I afford around 10 to 15cm between his charges, which is considerably less than commonly recommended.
Generous and regular watering (in the evenings) keeps leaf-nibbling flea beetles at bay and produces luscious plants. With care, a row of Broccoli raab ’60 days’ can be picked over numerous times.
Copyright, Joe Hashman June 2010