How to grow calabrese, the most miss named vegetable there is. Our supermarkets will insist on rechristening this vegetable and calling it broccoli.
To clear it up, broccoli is most commonly known as purple sprouting broccoli and is planted in the spring or summer of one year to harvest in the spring of the following year. Calabrese is sown and harvested in the same year and tends to be a larger vegetable with a more delicate flavour. You could also sow in autumn in the greenhouse to get a winter crop.
How To Grow Calabrese:
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As calabrese is part of the brassica group it prefers a rich, firm and alkaline soil.
You need to bear this in mind when preparing any brassica bed, as a loose, freshly dug plot will not offer enough support for the large brassicas, and some soil improvers will have an acidifying effect on the soil.
Plant brassicas in the part of the garden that contained the beans and peas in a previous year. This is because these plants act like a green manure adding plenty of nitrates to the soil. Also add a dressing of fish, blood and bone fertilizer with some wood ash and lime. Don't dig this bed so that the calabrese has a firm soil to root into.
However, if your soil needs the extra nutrition of an animal manure, use a well-rotted horse manure and dig it in during the previous autumn. This will give the soil plenty of time to settle down and firm. It would also be a good idea to use the fish, blood and bone fertilizer with some wood ash and lime a few weeks before planting.
Sow thinly into modules or cell packs from March through until June and thin down to one plant per module. Plant on to an 8cm pot as soon as they are big enough, adding a teaspoon of lime to the compost.
The lime will produce a slightly alkaline soil which will allow the calabrese to extract the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Once the plants have established, put them in their final growing position, spacing then 40 to 50cm apart. You can reduce the spacing in raised beds and by staggering rows.
It is also a good idea to heel the plants in giving them a secure bed to grow and develop into.
If you have a greenhouse or poly tunnel you could also sow calabrese in September for a welcome crop in November.
All brassicas are susceptible to a disease called club root. This is a disease found in the soil that causes the root of the plant to become deformed. If you have club root present in your soil then you will need to grow on the seedlings until they are well establishes, and plant the calabrese in a hole that is lined with compost.
This won’t stop the disease but it will give the plant enough time to develop and crop.
Cabbage root fly is a common problem that is easily remedied, simply cut a square, flat collar to fit around the stem of the plant to stop the cabbage root fly from laying eggs at the base of the stem of the plant.
Caterpillars are another pest that can do a lot of damage, and prevention is probably the best tactic to use against them.
To stop the onslaught of caterpillars, every few days check the underside of leaves to find eggs, and wipe them off with a gloved thumb. But of course keep an eye out for caterpillars just in case you miss some eggs.
You could also plant nasturtiums nearby, as caterpillars are attracted to the nasturtiums and will hopefully feast on them leaving your calabrese time to flourish
Calabrese is very easy to harvest, simply cut of the calabrese head that develops in the centre of the plant. The head is very recognizable as it will look just like a ‘supermarket broccoli’, just make sure you cut it before it starts to flower.
Once you have cut the main head, do not pull up the plant, because if it is left it will send up many smaller spears.
Calabrese is most often used as a lightly boiled or steamed vegetable served as a side to a main dish, and of course, the flavor of your own calabrese will be outstanding, so it makes a perfect vegetable side dish. But that’s not all you can do with calabrese.
Try it griddled with sesame seeds and olive oil and serve it on a mixed salad. Try as part of a stir fry, or mixed into a cauliflower cheese bake, topped with bread crumbs and almonds.
Calabrese is great in pasta, makes a great risotto and can be use in Thai and Chinese dishes. It also makes a fantastic soup, particularly creamed with stilton cheese.
To freeze, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds and plunge into ice cold water to stop the cooking process, then dry, tray up and freeze. Bag up the calabrese heads when they are completely frozen.