On the go in my garden at present are six of the Tenderstem ones.
Tenderstem broccoli takes its name from the fact that it has thick succulent stems, which are the best part of this vegetable. The flower-heads are definitely of secondary importance.
It produces lots of shoots or "spears", some of which grow from the base of the plant at ground-level like this:
Somewhat like Purple Sprouting Broccoli, the cutting of the first spears stimulates the production of more, further down the stem. Tenderstem is used in the kitchen in much the same way as Purple Sprouting, steamed, boiled or stir-fried. I think the key thing is to be very careful to avoid over-cooking it.
Fortunately Tenderstem takes much less time to grow than Purple Sprouting (which needs a good 10 months). These ones of mine were sowed on 21st March, and are just about ready to start cropping now at the end of June. [I suspect that when you read this I will be on holiday somewhere in Eastern Europe, and thus unable to benefit immediately from the Tenderstem crop, but I'm confident that my Garden Helpers will be doing their thing and making sure it doesn't get wasted!]
The best way to raise Tenderstem broccoli is to sow seeds in modules indoors, then keep them under cover until they have three or four proper leaves, by which time they are big enough for transplanting. Before planting them out into their final locations, harden them off by putting them outdoors during the daytime and bringing them indoors at night. It is best to plant them pretty deep in order to assist with stability and better root formation. Like all brassicas, Tenderstem is prone to attack from the Cabbage Root Fly, so take your usual precautions. These days I rely on a combination of brassica collars and nematodes.
The plants never get really huge - not like Brussels Sprouts, for instance - so they don't generally need staking. I planted a row of six in one of my 2.4 metre raised beds, so that means they are only approximately 40cm apart.
You can probably see that the broccoli foliage is very clean and undamaged. This may be partly due to the fact that the plants have been covered by small mesh anti-butterfly netting, but is more to do with the fact that there have been hardly any butterflies about so far this year. I don't have much of a problem with slugs and snails in my garden either. I think the large expanses of shingle do a lot to deter them.
By the time my Tenderstem is finished their neighbours the Brussels Sprouts will be getting pretty big and will be needing room to expand. Currently however, the sprout plants are smaller than the Tenderstem ones.
|Tenderstem at left, Brussels Sprout at right|
|Brussels Sprout "Brilliant"|