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storms and broccoli

June 21, 2011

last spring in pescadero, we complained that it rained too much. with the deluge coming down here in wisconsin as i write, i have a new perspective on what a lot of rain is. plus there’s so much more storm to this rain — brilliant white flashes of lightning, rumbling thunder, tempestuous winds and, my favorite, tornado watches.

despite an ominous forecast we managed to get most of our crops harvested for the csa yesterday and today, starting with broccoli yesterday morning. broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables (was THE definitive favorite as a child), and i also like harvesting it.

early in the morning in the gray mist, fresh with the new day, i walk between the rows in my rubber boots as the wide blue-green leaves brush dew onto my jeans. i peer down into each spiraling plant, looking for the single head it produces at its center. some are clearly too small — just an inch or two in diameter — or haven’t formed yet at all. the small ones will grow bigger and deeper green over the next few days, so i leave them and move on.

each head that is wider than a couple inches requires more evaluation — is it going to keep growing and stay compact, or will it decide it’s big enough already, and move on to its next stage of life? pick it too small, and i diminish our yield from this already rather inefficient crop. leave it too long and it spreads out and gets ready to flower, becoming more like broccoli raab and, unfortunately, unmarketable. i think it tastes just as good at that more mature stage, but people don’t want to buy it. so i embark on a sort of calculus, weighing the size of the plant (which correlates with the maximum head size it will produce), the current size of the head, its color, how big and tightly packed the buds are, the weather outlook, and when i am likely to next come out to harvest the bed. somehow out of all that has to come a simple yes or no.

if i deem a head to be ready, i grab it with my left hand, bend the plant slightly to the side, and slice the stem with a sharp knife. then i quickly break off all the large leaves and any side shoots that have already grown (in case you were wondering, all of this is edible too). i pile the naked broccoli head into the crate and carry my loot along the row, adding more until the heads threaten to tumble off the top and i have to go back for a new crate.

3 beds, 6 crates, and a lot of irreversible decisions later i have enough broccoli to fill all the CSA boxes, and there will be more ready by thursday. it’s tasty and beautiful, and i’ve been sowing a new bed’s worth of broccoli every 2 weeks since march, so it’s going to keep on coming. lucky us.

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