Ask Chef Boy Ari
The Seedy Side of Gardening
Q: Dear Chef Boy Ari,
My garden plot is a little shady. According to the seed packet, my broccoli plants should be fine with partial sun. But they’re already starting to flower, having skipped the tasty head stage. Is there something I can do to stop them from flowering? What gives?
A: Dear Floretless,
Your broccoli plants want to make as many seeds as they can, and under good conditions they will grow as much as possible before flowering. A larger plant will make a larger “pre-floral organ”—aka “head,” the part you eat—which leads to a larger flower, and hence more seeds. Your broccoli went to seed early, probably in response to some kind of environmental stress.
If the plant gets a sketchy vibe from its environment—too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too long in a tiny pot before transplanting—it hits a panic button of sorts, sounding a systemic alarm that says, “Now or never boys, let’s go!”
Unfortunately for you, once its mind is made up, that broccoli plant’s determination to release its pollen rivals the average teenager’s, and no amount of pruning will change it.
But don’t stress out. You have options. You can, of course, buy broccoli on the open market, ideally the farmers’ market. But if you really want to grow your own broccoli this summer, you have one more chance. You need to find a local farmer—and there are many—who seeded broccoli starts for a fall crop. Those plants are about six inches tall now, and ready to be transplanted. Ask around at the farmers’ market. Someone will have them, or know someone who does.
And this time, treat that broccoli right.
Send your food and garden queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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