In my house, one of the favourite crops of the year is the prolific purple sprouting broccoli.
These little purple florets are real nuggets of flavour, and Ailsa especially loves them. Together with rhubarb, they burst on to the scene in Spring, bringing colour and life to the plot again after the winter.
However, things just got better for us, as it seems PSB is arriving on the scene earlier…
The earliest I’ve harvested PSB before is March, but this year I’m harvesting now courtesy of a crop grown by the previous incumbent of my new allotment.
I’m told that as well as the Early Purple Sprouting variety that I already grow, there’s an Extra Early variety, Rudolph, out there which is ready for harvest in January. Rudolph is definitely on my list to grow for 2014.
And if that’s not enough, there’s a Late Sprouting too. That little lot should keep you in PSB for 6 months, which is no bad thing: according to one seed provider, 1g of broccoli provides your entire daily requirement of vitamin C.
I always start my purple sprouting off in pots, sowing the seeds 1cm deep into multipurpose compost. Germination occurs at 5oC and seedlings usually appear in about a fortnight. Keep the seedlings watered, and plant out when they reach about 10-15cm tall.
Normally, I’ll sow in March, in a greenhouse, or April outside. Remember to harden off greenhouse-grown seedlings before planting out, and avoid the last frosts if you can.
When planting out, pop a trowelful of manure or compost into the hole to provide the roots with a little boost, and water well. The plants will grow big and wide (sometimes as high as 4ft), so give them plenty of space.
Depending on the strength of the plant, it might be worth staking up too if particularly windy weather if forecast.
It is also worth considering netting during Summer. Cabbage White butterflies are partial to a brassica and will decimate a plant within days if they’re allowed to (I know, I’ve been there!).
I always make sure I keep an eye on my PSB once the new year comes, as a bigger purple head will develop on the plant. Nipping this off before it grows too large will encourage lots of smaller side shoots.
Harvest shoots when they’re about 6 inches long, and if you prevent the plant from flowering it will continue to produce for up to 2 months.