PSB – King of Veg!Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg
PSB? The magnificent Purple Sprouting Broccoli! If you are lucky, you may find some on sale in your local greengrocer from early spring – at a price. Time to grow your own maybe, but only if you have room as PSB occupies soil space for just over a year from the day you sow the tiny, round dark seeds to the day you cut your first tender, purple spears surrounded by juicy green leaves. I cut my first spears at the weekend, trimmed the stems, washed them well and shook most of the water off, then steamed them for barely three minutes in a large pan with a knob of butter - a wonderful feast on its own or the perfect accompaniment to roasts!
How to grow your own PSB
The word Broccoli in the name indicates that you are dealing with a member of the brassica family and you may have read my short article about sowing brassica seed a couple of weeks ago. If not, here’s how to grow your own PSB from scratch.
The seed is best germinated in a ‘seed bed’ which is more or less just as it sounds, a small patch of ground from which every trace of weed has been removed and the soil has been raked to the texture of fine, brown crumbs. Drag a blunt stick along to make a short, shallow groove and simply place a few seeds along in a row: although PSB seed is small, as long as you are patient it is possible to place each seed exactly where you want it to germinate, thereby avoiding the need to thin seedlings out at a later stage. Cover the seed bed with a tent of horticultural fleece which will help retain warmth to aid germination as well as warding off pests. Like all brassicas, PSB acts like a magnet for birds which love the tasty leaves and the plant’s central shoot in particular, so some kind of covering is essential if you want your precious plants to survive to maturity. With this in mind, I leave the fleece cover on until I am ready to transplant the seedlings to their eventual growing site.
Planting out your PSB
The seedlings need to develop two pairs of true leaves before they are ready to be transplanted. First, prepare the growing site following the usual routine of weed removal and addition of good organic compost or well-rotted manure. Some gardeners add a scattering of lime at this stage. Once you are sure that the soil is ready, walk over it using ‘pigeon steps’ in order to firm the ground – essential for all types of brassicas. Then, using a small hand fork, gently ease the plants from the seed bed, avoiding damage to the stem or root system. The plants need to be spaced 45cm (18in) apart in a hole (use your dibber to make this…) so that the soil comes up to the first pair of leaves in order to encourage a strong root system to develop along the stem. Once in the ground, firm each plant in well using the heel of your boot which will avoid the plants rocking in the wind and allowing a gap to open around the stem, an invitation for the troublesome cabbage root fly. Adding a disc of cardboard around the stem at soil level will help deter this pest.
It is easy to devote precious time rigging up a net or mesh cover, only to find that the plants quickly outgrow it. When fully grown, PSB reach an impressive height – at least a metre – so bear this in mind. One way to overcome the height problem is to put a long, sturdy cane into the ground alongside each plant as a support against wind damage but also to raise the netting cover sufficiently to prevent pigeons perching on top of the plants and stealing your wonderful crop! It happens…
A covering of fine net will also deter cabbage white butterflies which may be drawn to your crop in order to lay their eggs. The adult butterfly itself does not cause damage to brassicas but if left unchecked the larvae will consume leaves and weaken a plant to the point where it dies. Planting nasturtiums close to a bed of brassicas should attract any cabbage white butterflies which are passing, thereby allowing your plants to reach maturity and produce their beautiful spears.