Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Coming soon - PSB

At this time of year (that is, when chillis are not in season), my favourite vegetable is Purple Sprouting Broccoli.

One of the reasons why I like PSB so much is that (in common with the chilli), it is just so photogenic. Actually my post today is really just an excuse to publish my latest photos of this veg!

I love eating PSB as well as photographing it, but to be honest, it is not everyone's favourite vegetable to grow, because it requires a lot of patience. From seed to harvest, PSB takes about 10 months, and all that time it is tying-up space. I suppose that when the PSB is small you can under-plant or inter-crop it with something else, but you have to be careful not to rob it of the light and nutrients that it needs to develop well.

In its early days PSB is very prone to attack by Cabbage Root Fly, against which you need to protect it with Brassica Collars or very fine-mesh netting.

PSB suffering from Cabbage Root Fly attack
Later on the Butterflies will seek it out, hoping to lay their eggs on it, so yet again netting will be required.

Don't forget that you will need to provide some strong stakes to support your plants during the Winter gales.

But in my opinion, all this care and attention is justified by the end results (as long as you get a good crop, that is!) because the young shoots of PSB are so tender and delicious.

I normally grow 2 or 3 different varieties of PSB each year, in order to extend the cropping period. This year I was supposed to have two each of "Rudolph", "Red Spear" and "Early Purple Sprouting", but due to some losses at the Young Plant stage I ended up with only one "Rudolph", and the missing one was replaced with a "Red Arrow". The different varieties do tend to perform slightly differently, though the harvest times are very approximate.

Towards the middle of January, the main heads of the plants start to be more prominent and visible, and it gets easier to see the differences. This one is "Rudolph". Its main head normally rises well above the foliage (incidentally making it even better as a photo-subject!).

This one on the other hand is "Red Spear", whose main head tends to nestle down in amongst the leaves a bit more.

This is "Red Arrow". No sign at all of any flower-shoots just yet, but otherwise looking strong.

This last one is "Early Purple Sprouting". Again, no spears yet, and quite sparse in terms of foliage.

 The plant is also significantly shorter than the others. In this next photo it is the one at the left. The other two visible ones are both "Red Spear"

The spears, or flowering shoots, of PSB are the bits you eat. Rudolph produces spears that have very few leaves on them. Some people like it for that very reason, but I prefer the spears of Early Purple Sprouting, which tend to have more foliage on them. The leaves are very tasty and should definitely not be wasted. With all types of PSB it is best to cut the main head first, before it gets too big and loose - certainly before the flowers start showing any yellow colour. This will promote the formation of side-shoots further down the plant.

Photo from 2013. "Rudolph": Central head cut; side-shoots forming.

Well, this year's pay-off time is fast approaching. My plants are looking strong and healthy and I'm anticipating a decent crop. Even the plant which nearly died as a result of the Cabbage Root Fly attack (see second photo in this post) looks as if it will deliver at least a handful of spears. In a funny sort of way I shall derive more pleasure from nursing this "casualty" through to maturity than I will from growing all the other normal ones!


  1. I think it's a case of deserving a decent harvest after nurturing the plants for such a long time, especially the casualty.

  2. They look like strong healthy plants. A well deserved harvest for you after all this time.

  3. After the broccoli spears stop appearing, we eat a lot of the tidy bigger leaves (with the mid-rib stripped out as this can be a bit tough) as they are very remarkably tender and fill that early spring crop gap.

  4. Rudolph is so pretty. I'll never grow PSB. I just don't have a season long enough for it. Which is too bad as I've been known to grow plants just because of their looks.

  5. Your really must love PSB to devote that much space for that long. It is gorgeous and I have tried growing it for that reason, I went on a purple vegetable kick a few years ago. The few times I grew it I never got a taste because the aphids thoroughly infested it. I may give it another try though, I seem to have fewer aphid problems these days so perhaps I'll have a chance to get a taste myself.

  6. When I heard mention of PSB, I just assumed it was regular broccoli that developed small shoots - I had no idea how long it took to mature. Learn something new every day. Your pictures are lovely btw.

  7. Really beautiful looking plants.
    I had no idea Broccoli could grow so tall.

  8. A handsome plant. And so long in fruition, and now your patience is rewarded.

  9. How many plants do you grow, Mark, to enjoy a good harvest? I've grown 6 plants this year which will not even begin to keep me in broccoli but it's just so lovely to get little taste of home-grown - and, as you rightly say, make for fab photos! I grew different varieties, named I think for the season of maturity, but I planted them late (seeds sown in May, planted out mid-August) and have still benefited from some lovely green shoots and PSB almost ready for the central shoots to be cut.

    1. Hi Caro; This year I have six plants (varieties named in the post), which is enough for the two of us, and usually allows me to give some away to one of my daughters.


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