Thilaka Baskaran extols the cancer-protective effect of broccoli, an incentive for you to grow it
When news of the recently-developed ‘super broccoli' Beneforte splashed across world media last week, it attracted the attention of health workers. Broccoli has been the subject of serious study following the 1992 discovery of glucoraphanin, a plant nutrient that is present in large quantities in this plant. Epidemiological literature published over the last 25 years has reported the cancer-protective effect of broccoli. Glucoraphanin lowers stress in the body, detoxifies and helps lower cholesterol.
The excitement over the Beneforte broccoli stemmed from the fact that it has two to three times the quantity of glucoraphanin than the broccoli in the market. Beneforte broccoli was created by cross-pollinating commercial broccoli with a wild variety found in Italy to pack in the big nutritional punch.
While this new broccoli is now available only in the U.S. and the U.K., it will soon reach the rest of the world.
Now's the right time
Broccoli grows best in the cooler months of the year and this is the time to start planting it. Plant the seeds half-cm deep in seed trays. After three weeks, separate seedlings into individual eight-cm pots. When the plants have four to eight true leaves, transplant them in the garden.
Broccoli is a heavy feeder. So make sure that the planting bed is rich with compost and well drained. Water the bed thoroughly before setting out seedlings. Set plants deeper in the soil than they were in the pots, right down to the healthiest big leaves. Space the plants 30 to 60cm apart and 80cm between rows. Broccoli continues to grow side shoots after the main head is harvested and it is necessary to provide adequate space for the side shoots. Plants stressed for water and nutrients form poor heads, so make sure you water them regularly and provide nitrogen fertilizer.
When to harvest
Broccoli will be ready to harvest in 65 to 70 days after planting. Cut the broccoli head when it is well formed but before it starts to flower. While harvesting, cut the main stem 15cm below the head. After the main harvest, continue to provide adequate nutrients for the side shoots to form. On well-grown plants, the harvest from these multiple side shoots can be more than the main harvest.
Regarding pests, aphids and butterfly caterpillars can be controlled if you regularly inspect leaves and apply chilli spray.
Broccoli stems and leaves are also rich in nutrients and can be eaten. While broccoli can be cooked in different ways, it retains maximum nutrients when cooked for a short time by steaming or stir frying.
It can also be eaten raw in salads to get the maximum benefit of glucoraphanin.