Sprouting Broccoli

Photo: Happy Rich Mini-Head Broccoli, taken today

I have for many years enjoyed the wonderfully sweet, deeply purple, lance-like florets thrust up in the spring by Purple Sprouting Broccoli. We have even grown some on the rooftop with modest success in plastic wading pools. The bugger of the thing is that they require a bed commitment of about 9 months, being an overwintered crop that needs to be planted by at least July of the previous year in order to size up properly for the spring. That is fine if you have ample space to devote to that crop, but in the limited real estate that is a rooftop garden, space hogs need not apply.
Last year I tried something with a very un-broccoli-esque name, a hybrid green called Happy Rich. It was touted as a side-shoot-prolific broccoli, but was listed under the Greens section of Johnny’s seed catalog. I was game for a try, expecting something like broccoli raab, but sweeter. In early spring I direct seeded it tight as I would raab, but didn’t get what I expected. It looked and grew much more like heading broccoli, and under that initially tight planting, stressed plants, with the telltale purplish leaves, were the result. We tried taking some of the leaves as greens, and while they were not that bad, neither were they choice. After a radical thinning, the plants that remained put up shoots, and there their true talents emerged – a small central head and abundant side shoots on modest, well-behaved plants. Having thus learned more of the nature of this plant, I decided to seed the second round indoors as I would for broccoli starts, though at that point it was later in the season, and I thought it might be for naught, given that I didn’t have a good idea about its winter hardiness. Again I was pleasantly surprised that in a winter of a few stiff freezes, the plants have done marvelously and have had small, harvestable florets on them continuously throughout the winter. So we’ve had sprouting broccoli this spring from last fall’s transplants ( went into the ground in late September), thereby avoiding the huge investment of space required by something like purple sprouting. This year I see Johnny’s has placed Happy Rich in a new Mini Broccoli category just before the heading broccolis, which is a much better descriptor of its performance than Asian Green. In addition to Happy Rich, I’ll also be trying a few other look-a-likes: Territorial’s Apollo (pricey seed at 25 seeds for $3.85!) and Nichols’s Piracicaba. Watch for progress reports on later posts.