Bravo, Broccoli!


April 19, 1992|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Why do I grow broccoli? Let me count the whys.

*I grow broccoli because I promised Mr. Morgan, my sixth-gradteacher at Catonsville Elementary School, that I would eat the darn thing until I learned to spell it correctly. I never thought that would take 32 years. My question is: Does broccoli have a double-c, a double-l, or both? And what happened to the poor kid who sat behind me who couldn't spell brussels sprouts?

*I grow broccoli to get all its nutritional benefits with none of the drawbacks. What's the point of eating store-bought broccoli to fight cancer if it's loaded with pesticides?

*I grow broccoli for our daughter, who uses the fresh stalks tspruce up her doll house. Beth trims off the smallest florets and places them alongside the house as landscaping plants. She says raw broccoli makes great shrubs and trees. For snow scenes, she dips them in sour cream.

*I grow broccoli because unlike cauliflower, its high- struncousin, it requires no coddling. All broccoli needs is neutral soil and plenty of fertilizer and water to produce strapping blue-green plants with mammoth heads 10 inches across. There is something terribly macho in taking a kitchen knife and cutting home-grown broccoli, even though the botanical family to which it belongs -- the brassicas -- sounds like something only women should be allowed to grow.

*I grow broccoli because the president dislikes it. When hraised my taxes, I decided to raise more broccoli. I made it my protest crop. In fact, I urge every self-respecting Democrat to grow broccoli, particularly during this, an election year. Heck, if we all put our heads together we may even come up with a viable presidential candidate, though to the best of my knowledge, broccoli itself has never sided with either party. Vegetables tend to be apolitical, the vice president notwithstanding.

I've harvested broccoli for many reasons, and for many relatives. I've grown it for family, friends and even Katydid, our salad-eating dog.

Now it appears that my broccoli has been tapped to help mankind. Science wants to use several of my plants for cancer research.

I am not making this up. My broccoli has been solicited by Dr. Paul Talalay, a molecular pharmacologist whose five-year research has pinpointed the powerful anti-cancer agent in the vegetable. But there is more work to be done, and more broccoli to be tested.

The "Broc Doc" wants my plants.

"I'm perfectly serious," says Talalay, of Johns Hopkins University. "I'm looking for an organic gardener who'd like to be part of a broccoli-growing experiment."

Naturally, I volunteered. Hey, it's not my head that's being cut off and dissected in a laboratory. I'm willing to sacrifice a few plants for a good cause. So I promised Talalay my first-born broccoli this summer.

Beth says she understands. I hope the dog does.

I'm glad my garden can contribute to this noble effort, but I'm increasingly aware of my broccoli's vulnerability. What if a heat wave wipes out my crop? What if villainous cutworms destroy the young plants? What if the dreaded cabbage looper drops by for dinner when I'm not there?

My seedlings are barely in the ground, and I'm wilting under pressure.

Not to worry, says Talalay, who has other sources of fresh broccoli, including Steve Collier, an organic gardener from Surry, Maine.

Collier shares my concerns.

"It makes me nervous, too," says Collier, a University of Maryland graduate. "I feel like I have to be extra careful, especially after the porcupine incident."

Collier alone supplied the research broccoli for several years until a hungry porcupine slipped into his garden and ate 50 heads virtually overnight.

More recently, the test-tube produce hails from Maine PackerInc., a 1,300-acre broccoli farm in Caribou, Maine.

"We're glad to be a part of the [Hopkins] effort," says owner Andy Ayer, who grows a variety of broccoli called Saga that has been most impressive in laboratory tests.

However, most other types of broccoli also rate highly in the cancer-fighting compounds that Talalay has traced to their mustard oils.

Saga broccoli seed is available from Johnny's Selected Seeds (Foss Hill Road, Albion, Maine 04910). I don't have an address for porcupines.

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