I tried my hand at growing broccoli last year. I ordered some seeds and put them in the propagator. Nada. Not even one little sprout. So as I was a little late to the party now, I planted some rather limp looking plants from the garden centre – six to be precise. I watered. I weeded and then I wept. The one week when I was not able to get to the allotment was the one week during which the allotment beast decided to have it’s harvest day. After all my nurturing I had nothing but gnawed leaves and stalks to show.
Inspired by The Broccoli Brothers
I was inspired to grow broccoli after meeting the three brothers who run Agromark in Murcia, Spain. They supply Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and after 40 years of being in business, they know what there is to know about growing broccoli and getting it to our supermarket shelves – in a day directly from the field.
It all starts with good soil
Let’s start with the soil. Although the sunny location is ideal, Murcia is a dry and arid land and has poor soil for growing anything. The Broccoli Brothers bring their soil in from Estonia and their seeds from Japan. Each seed has a protective coating to ward off fungus and give them a better fighting chance than my amateur seeds. 600 Euros will buy 1000 seeds which yields approximately 2 lorries full of broccoli – that’s about 25,000 kg.
The seeds are planted into the Estonian soil, watered and then tiny stones are added to lock the moisture in. A trick I must remember for my seeds this year. They then spend 48 hours in germination and are moved to grow in enormous greenhouses for 30 – 55 days depending on the time of year. The error rate is marginal. 99% of the seeds planted grow making this an incredibly efficient operation. After this they are planted outside until they are ready to harvest.
From field to shelf
Harvesting and packing is all done in the field. One machine houses a team who cut, package and label 15 pallets a day. The pallets are placed directly onto lorries bound for British shores which deliver this amazingly fresh and nurtured product the following day – no allotment beasts in this supply chain! Once the plants are harvested, they are mulched down back into the soil so there’s absolutely no waste.
It really was amazing to see the whole process. I must also tell you that I’ve never tasted broccoli as good as that hot sunny day in Spain. It was sweet and so tender that it needed no cooking. We ate it raw on the roadside and it was as refreshing as a glass of white Rioja. Far healthier too.
Healthier raw or cooked?
I’ve always steamed broccoli lightly before eating it. I have heard that this binds the fibre better and so it’s easier for bile acid to be excreted and that means lower cholesterol. So I’d never really thought about it as a vegetable you could eat raw until that day. I’m still not sure which is better to be honest from a health point of view. If you know, please do share in the comments below. But I did come home inspired by my insider’s look and the wonderfully fresh taste out in that field that I’ve been eating it raw far more than cooked. It brings back memories of a very happy day of learning.
Raw Broccoli Salad with Yoghurt, Herb and Nut Dressing
Thank you to Agromark for hosting my visit. Thanks also to HortyFruta and ProExport who funded the trip as part of their We Care You Enjoy Campaign to promote Spanish fruit and veg.