Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bouncing Baby Broccoli!

Amazing, aren't they? Pity the grow-light washes out their color a bit in the picture. Should have turned it off and used the flash so you could see their luscious greenness.

New broccoli and cauliflower seedlings may not be much of a miracle for some, but for me, this is truly exciting, because it's the first year they haven't been struck down on emergence with damping off. Oh, I've tried to do everything right in the past: using sterile potting mix, washing out the pots and starter six-packs with bleach, putting flourescent light tubes over them, yet my poor babies were still struck down in droves, turning brown and thin at the soil line and keeling over with piteous expressions on their tiny little cotyledons. "Oh, help us, help us, we're too young to die!"

This year I invested in a good tabletop grow-light and a seed-starter heat mat to encourage rapid germination. I dispensed with covering the seedlings as the seed starting manuals suggest, allowing air circulation to the youngsters. I even sprinkled the soil with a light dusting of cinnamon, having read on a gardening board that cinnamon acts as a mild fungicide (I'd tried chamomile spritzes, to no avail). Heck, I'll try anything short of voodoo to prevent damping off, and if I can finally grow the Minaret broccoli I've been coveting, I'm not too particular about the voodoo, either.

But why all this fuss about broccoli and cauliflower when you can buy broccoli for four bits a pound at the grocery store? Because this isn't just any old dull green broccoli and palid cauliflower. What's popping up under those brilliant lights are some cultivars that I can't find in local markets anywhere for any price. Maybe some lucky folks can find these at farmer's markets. Enjoy your blessings. For me, the only way to get Romanesco broccoli such as Minaret, lime-green Panther cauliflower, and the nutritious and brilliant orange Cheddar cauliflower is to grow them myself.

The dangers of damping-off aren't past yet, and my babies still have the rigors of cutworms and cabbage moths to endure. But they're off to a stronger start than I've gotten from cole crop seedlings before. Cross all fingers, toes, and cotyledons. I may have my beautiful coles yet!

Minaret broccoli:

Panther cauliflower:

Cheddar cauliflower:

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