Can I just say how disappointing it is to spend weeks and weeks growing plants from seeds–moving the plants from seed cells into the ground, watching them grow, fretting over every bug bite–and still not getting the desired results? Such is my frustration with broccoli. We do love this vegetable, but trying to produce big heads of it in our kitchen garden here in the District of Columbia, about a mile from the White House, has been vexing.
Spring is too short here. The broccoli go to seed too quickly. In the fall, the sun travels to the south, disappearing too soon behind the house. But mostly, I think, I just don’t understand the feeding needs of broccoli. I work my own compost into the soil, but I fear this is not enough. I think more than anything my broccoli plants are just hungry.
I started this garden hoping to make it a self-contained operation, meaning, as little input from the outside world as possible. We garden intensively. We also compost intensively. But in the end, our plot and our kitchen scraps simply do not generate all the nutrients our plants need to grow properly, especially when they are not getting full sun.
What’s the solution? I collect coffee grounds from the neighborhood Starbucks and horse manure from a friendly riding stables to boost our compost. Do I simply add more of this compost to the soil supporting our broccoli? Or should Itake an even easier route and start feeding them with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion? If so, how much? How often?
Resorting to commercial fertilizers seems like too much of a compromise. But then I think of the enormous heads of broccoli selling at the local farmers market, and learning that they were grown with chemical fertilizers.
Starting a garden is easy. But as any experienced food gardener can tell you, learning to garden is a lifelong process.