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 Broccolithat 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.
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 headed 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.