The Long Island Seed Project
Broccoli: Breeding a Better Broccoli (OSU Breeding Line)
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- OSU Broccoli: A Broccoli for Organic
- Saving Broccoli Seed
- Sprouting Broccoli: From Britain
The smaller plants in this photo and those with small heads will be
pulled or rogued before they bloom as part of the selection
process. If I see a head where there is a lack of uniformity in
bead (flower buds) or symmetry or it has begun to bloom prematurely,
out it comes. I want uniform small beads on an attractive
head. I also want it to last in the field so I have a longer
Out of 150 plants, we will save seed from less than half. There
is still a lot of diversity in the OSU Broccoli and part of that is by
choice, not concentrating on one trait. For example, I like
the big heads that I've been getting this year (and some have been
immense), but those larger heads seem to lose the long tender neck
characteristic typical of the smaller flared heads that I really like
too. So, I've let plants with both traits cross. I also get
very early heads in 50 days from setting out plants in early May and I
also have plants just beginning to head at 70 days from field planting
and I like that ability for an extended harvest.
- One of my favorite projects in our work with the Organic Seed
Partnership at Flanders Bay Farm involves the continued selection of an
open-pollinated broccoli for organic systems. After three years
of growing broccoli selected from a mass cross of varieties made by Jim
Myers, who is a professor of plant breeding at Oregon State University,
we may have finally gotten it right! Broccoli is not what one
usually considers an organic sustainable crop for a number of reasons
but this may change as the OSU Broccoli becomes progressively more
adapted to our Long Island soils, climate and cultural practices.
One of the most interesting aspects of this broccoli is it's resistance
to disease and insect pests which makes it ideal for organic farms and
gardens. In the three years of growing this broccoli we haven't
had to use any kinds of pest or disease controls.
- This years crop shows some of the variation in the
population. It remains variable in it's maturity, something that
we have not selected out. We like the idea that one planting will
result in a harvest over many weeks. Perhaps not what corporate
farms need, but ideal to the ability of small farms to meet the needs
of their farmstand customers.
We continue to select for the "long neck" trait for ease of
harvest. Also, that vase-like long stem is remarkably tender and
sweet for a broccoli. Most people like the steamed stalk just as
much as the florets.
Here, Zak is working with the initial small planting of the OSU
Broccoli in 2005. Germination was poor and we probably had less
that 30 or 40 plants to work with. As we continue working with
the OSU broccoli it just gets better and better. It seems more
tolerant of the high temperatures we get in mid summer, still has
remarkable insect resistance and is producing more usable heads and of
a larger size. It is also easier to save the seeds of. I
hear that already our northeast strain of the OSU broccoli differs from
the northwest strain which has been selected by organic farmers in
Oregon and Washington.
Saving Broccoli Seed
Since broccoli is insect pollinated, the crop has to be isolated from
most of the other common brassicas that may be in flower.
insects do get around (they can travel and move pollen around over many
hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet) and if other members of the
broccoli species are in flower at the same time, they will be
Cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, some kinds of kale, brussels sprouts
are some members of the Brassica oleracea species. Breeders have
crossed broccoli with cauliflower with some interesting and marketable
developments, but for the most part you will probably want to grow only
one of the Brassicas at a time, and only one cultivar if you want to
maintain seed purity.
Once broccoli starts to flower, it bolts quickly and attracts many
kinds of insect pollinators. We get an equal number of bumble bee and
honey bees working the flowers as well as flies and cabbage
butterflies. Rarely, broccoli can self-pollinate but mostly it
doesn't. Sometimes pollination is hit or miss and seed production can
be erratic. Pollen will generally have to be transferred among several
plants. This self-incompatibility may help to facilitate chance hybrids
that show greater vigor.
Pollinated flowers develop siliques or mustard type seedpods on
elongating flower stalks. When most of the pods enlarge with seeds and
turn brown pull up the plant, roots and all, and allow the plant to dry
in a well ventilated area until it's pods are brittle. Cut off the
roots and the thrash the stalks (roll the seed pods back and forth
through your hands until the sides of the pods break free and seed is
released. Use a strainer or screen to separate seed from pod remains.
Finally, gently blow away fine debris with a fan to leave the clean
seed behind. I had some difficulting planting the OSU broccoli early
enough to obtain the best quality seed. Because of the density of
the pods on a single plant and the fact that seeds develop on one
broccoli plant over an extended period of time, damp, wet weather can
play havoc with the seeds that mature early on as you wait for the
later pods to ripen. Seed harvesting in the wetter part of late
summer is just not condusive to producing quality clean seed with high
germination. Fortunately, this year the seed crop is coming
along just fine and hopefully will ripen in the field before the late
summer damp weather. For small-scale seed production, good
quality broccoli seed should be fairly easy to produce on the farm but
dry conditions as the seed ripens in the pods are really important. I
was hoping to put up a polyhouse for drying the seedcrop out during
damp weather but that remains a task for the future. When I was
in the seed business I always hot water treated my brassica seed before
packing; 122° F for 25 minutes, cooled and quickly blown dry
(without heat on screens) just to make sure that I wasn't going to
distribute any seed-borne fungus diseases. I never do that for my own
seed and I haven't had any major disease problems. So you decide.
For brassica seed (that includes broccoli, turnip, collards and many
other vegetables) the dry pods are crushed to release their seed and
then cleaned. In small batches which is what we work with at the
farm, the seeds get separated with assorted strainers and
screens. The work of separating the seed from chaff at the end of
the process requires a fan or air compressor (or in this case lung
Sure, you can sprout broccoli seeds for salads and sandwiches.
They are better than alfalfa sprouts. But the Sprouting Broccoli
we're talking about here is a category of broccoli that differs from
the kind that form big heads sometimes referred to Calabrese
Broccoli. Sprouting Broccoli is popular in Great Britain.
It is usually sown in early summer to a sizable plant, overwintered and
then the multitude of early little buds clusters and tender stems are
harvested for a spring treat. There are purple and white
sprouting kinds. The less commonly grown white one is more
related to cauliflower. Here on Long Island, it is almost
impossible to get the plants through our harsh winter. There are
some new developments coming from European breeders who have managed to
develop a Sprouting Broccoli that does not need the winter chill
or vernalization in order to develope clusters of tasty sprouts.
In that respect, it is much like the conventional broccoli that
produces the crop during the same growing season it's seeds are sown in.
Here is one of the newer Sprouting Broccoli which produces in 50 days
Have you heard of Broccolini or Asparagus Broccoli? Have you
seen it in a gourmet market? Have you grown it for your
customers? Definitely Not. Broccolini was developed by Sakata Seed
Company, the seed is produced under contract by a Thailand Company and
in the U.S. it can only be grown by a California Packing Company that
has an exclusive contract. Broccolini is a hybrid between a cultivar of
Gai Lon (or Kailan), a white flowered brassica sometimes known as
Chinese Kale (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra) and a selection of
standard broccoli. We've been growing those Gai Lon cultivars available
looking for tender, brittle stems and a mild, sweet flavor. A few years
ago we interplanted our selections of Gai Lon with a rather loose
broccoli selection and hope that the bees will help to cross the two.
We also hand pollinated using "bee sticks" (dead bees glued onto wood
coffee stirrers) since they are more effective than Q-tips or paint
brushes in transferring pollen. A bit tedious yet effective.
We grew some of the seed saved from that experiment this past
year. It produced what looks similar to the Gai Lon parent
complete with the white flowers one would also expect of Gai Lon.
Maybe we'll save the seed from this hybrid (if it is a cross) and try
next year to see what happens.
I grew up on Raab which is actually more related to turnip greens than
broccoli (it is a Brassica rapa) so it would be fitting that I write
something about it here. I am evaluating a number of varieties
and cultural techniques and will be back with more about these soon.
Last Modified: June, 2007