Why You Shouldn’t Ever Cook Broccoli in Your Slow Cooker Again

Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables. At just 34 calories per 100 grams, it supplies 148% of the vitamin C we need for a whole day. Did you know that 100 g of oranges would supply only 88%? Broccoli also supplies vitamins A, E and K, folates and vitamin B6, and the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Broccoli provides minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. And like many vegetables, it is a good source of dietary fibre.

But please, don’t cook broccoli in your crockpot!

Broccoli in the Crockpot? Phew, What a Stench!

I have generally cooked broccoli two ways in my life: steamed (my preferred method) and in stir fries. But when my neighbour began talking about freezer to crockpot meals, I fell in love with my slow cooker all over again. The convenience of chopping all my vegetables in a single afternoon and having freezer meals for a week was great. So I started to do most of my cooking in our trusty crockpot.

Most of the recipes I tried during that first month of freezer to crockpot cooking were heavy on the root vegetables. Specifically, they had a lot of onions, carrots, and potatoes. But there were several recipes that incorporated nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. I have to admit that I balked a bit at the idea of including these vegetables in recipes for the slow cooker, especially because cauliflower and broccoli become limp and tasteless if they’re overcooked. What I hadn’t expected was the stench.

Oh yes my friends, broccoli smells bad when you cook it in your crockpot!

The very first time we tried what was supposed to be a healthy beef and broccoli crock pot recipe, the whole house just reeked of sulfur. (Not to mention that the broccoli was mushy and lifeless, as I had feared it would be.) I tried tweaking my recipe by replacing the fresh broccoli I’d used at first with the commercially frozen stuff that was actually called for in the beef and broccoli recipe. I tried adding the broccoli during just the last hour. I tried tweaking the crockpot setting and the cooking time. But nothing really improved the situation all that much. It just stank. No matter what we tried, the smell was atrocious.

Using a crockpot to cook broccoli just seems to bring out the smell of sulfur more than other methods of cooking. I suspect it’s a combination of the longer, lower-temperature cooking and the contained moisture that is intended mainly for cooking hardier vegetables and less tender cuts of meat. While I have heard that some people are bothered by a bad smell when cooking boiled or steamed broccoli, I can’t remember it ever being an issue for me. It’s just trying to prepare broccoli in the slow cooker that stinks up my house.

Read more below…

Cooking broccoli the best way to boost sulforaphane and maximize health benefits | Fight cancer and improve your health | 24 Carrot Diet
Boost the sulforaphane content of your broccoli by steaming it
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Steamed Broccoli Cooks in Minutes

One question I eventually had to ask myself when I was in this full-on freezer to crockpot cooking craze was, Why am I cooking this meal in a slow cooker? A crockpot is an amazing tool for a busy family. A crockpot is a blessing when you’re feeding a big family on a budget, because you can buy inexpensive cuts of meat that are less tender and more flavourful. The longer cooking time helps to tenderize the meat, so the result is just as nice as the more expensive cuts.

A slow cooker is a huge help when you have school-age kids. It’s a relief to know dinner is taking care of itself when the kids are all coming in from school, wanting to tell Mama about their day, needing help with their homework, or waving the latest stack of permission slips and newsletters in your face. I’m sure many of you can relate!

But does that mean we need to cook every single meal in that much beloved crockpot? Is there a faster, more efficient way to cook your dinner? If food doesn’t need to be cooked slowly for several hours, then the answer is probably yes.

In the case of broccoli, it takes just minutes to cook. You can make steamed broccoli on the stovetop in about 3-5 minutes. Blanching broccoli in boiling water takes only 1-1/2 minutes. Cooking broccoli in a stir fry or steaming it in the microwave takes under 5 minutes. And even oven roasting your broccoli takes only about 15-20 minutes from start to finish.

So no, you don’t need a crockpot to cook your broccoli. You can do it any number of other ways in just minutes. Plopping it in the crockpot just isn’t saving you much time or work. And by cooking broccoli in the slow cooker, you’re missing out on important nutritional benefits.

 

Keep going….

Cooking broccoli too long can destroy sulforaphane, a #superfood antioxidant that fights #cancer
Prolonged cooking robs broccoli of important cancer-fighting nutrients like sulforaphane
Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Pexels

Crockpot Cooking Diminishes Broccoli Nutrition

Remember that I mentioned broccoli smells like sulfur when it’s cooked in a crockpot? That’s because it, like other cruciferous vegetables, is high in sulfur content. I know that might be a turn-off for a lot of people. That rotten egg smell is not appetizing at all. So it’s understandable that you might not associate stinky food with nutrition.

But in fact, this sulfur is important to our bodies, being the third most abundant mineral by weight. Vegetables that contain large amounts of sulfur have a long list of health benefits. Organic sulfur compounds have the potential to prevent or treat a wide array of medical conditions, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. Brassicas like broccoli are very rich in sulfur. And one of its sulfur-containing components in particular, called sulforaphane, is thought to be “one of the most powerful anticarcinogens found in food.

Without getting too technical on you, sulfur is one of the key components of a class of chemicals called glucosinolates. They are what gives the pungent smell and strong taste to brassicas such as kale, mustard greens, cabbage, and of course, broccoli. When we chop, chew, and digest cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme is activated that breaks down the glucosinolates into antioxidants like sulforaphane and indoles (which have their own health benefits such as balancing hormones.)

 

There’s still more…

Health Benefits of Sulforaphane in Broccoli & Other Brassicas
Learn more about the health benefits of sulforaphane. Grab yourself a free copy of this cool infographic, courtesy of 24 Carrot Diet!
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So here’s the problem with cooking broccoli in your slow cooker: the enzyme that makes sulfur-rich compounds like sulforaphane available to our bodies is destroyed by prolonged heating. Our bodies don’t do a great job of liberating that sulforaphane, so this is an issue.

Knowing that heat destroys the enzyme, the very best thing we can do when we make broccoli is to chop it up a bit before cooking, which starts the chemical breakdown. That should be followed by steaming for 3-4 minutes, or until it is “tough-tender.” This has actually been shown to increase the antioxidants, including sulforaphane. It has also been shown to improve the folate and carotenoid content of the broccoli, which means that you’re getting more of a whole bunch of nutrients when you steam your broccoli instead of tossing it into the crockpot.

So please, use fresh broccoli or blanch it at home and flash freeze it for later use. Your broccoli will be a nice, bright green. It will retain more of its crunch and flavour. And it will be more nutritious too!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured image made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user allanlau2000

Can’t Figure Out Why All those Nasty Bugs are Feasting on Your Cabbage Plants?

Pest control can be tricky in an organic garden. You know you want the best quality food for your family but choosing not to use chemical pesticides means you may see more bugs in your vegetable garden. Opting for raised garden beds can help to reduce the number of hungry pests you have to cope with. But ultimately, you will need to have a plan for insect control or insect removal to keep your organic vegetables safe from all that munching.

Many organic gardeners look to companion plants that repel insects from the vegetable patch. Many of these are strong-smelling herbs and flowers such as chervil, rue, or marigolds. You may also have read that companion plants like nasturtiums both repel harmful insects and attract beneficial pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds to the garden. Based on claims like this, many gardeners grow nasturtiums in their container gardens and use them as edging plants in their vegetable gardens.

Are your nasturtiums attracting bugs that eat your cabbage plants?
Nasturtiums are edible flowers that are often used to repel insect pests and attract pollinators to a garden
(Image: zrenate/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

What? The Bugs are Eating the Nasturtiums?

I recently wrote a Facebook post highlighting the use of nasturtiums as a companion plant. The post published on the 24 Carrot Diet page and I then shared it on my personal profile. Within minutes, I received two responses talking about bugs and nasturtiums.

The first comment came from a neighbour who is starting a home-based greenhouse business. He mentioned that last summer he found small black beetles (maybe flea beetles?) were attracted to his nasturtiums. These same bugs also had a particular affinity for plants in the brassica, or cabbage, family. He said he was glad he had put the nasturtiums into his flower beds, and not in his vegetable garden as he’d been planning on doing.

Another friend from back East mentioned that the area of her garden that was bordered by nasturtiums has been devastated by slugs, another pest that likes to eat members of the cabbage family (among other things.)

Until that moment, I had never questioned claims that nasturtiums repel garden pests. The pungent smell of the leaves and flowers is supposed to keep many insects away, just as the smell of a marigold would. And since I had never had trouble with any insects in my nasturtium plants, I always believed that to be true.

Well, it turns out that I only had half the story . . .

Yes, some insects do find the smell of nasturtiums unpleasant. But it turns out that nasturtiums do have natural predators. According to Burpee, nasturtiums fall prey to aphids, cabbage looper, leafhoppers, leafminers, and slugs. If you noticed that a lot of these yard pests also like to feast on brassicas, you are right. And that’s because nasturtiums are related to brassicas.

Now that’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know!

Nasturtiums are Related to Brassicas

I didn’t make the connection between nasturtiums and the bugs my friends were talking about until I did a little bit of digging – online, not in the garden this time. It took me a moment since nasturtium is not in the same genus as cabbage and its various cultivars: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and kohlrabi among them. It isn’t even in the same family as the cabbage, the Brassicaceae which include many other brassicas besides the cabbage cultivars: rutabagas, turnips, mustard and cress, and seed crops such as rapeseed and canola that are used to make oil.

But the nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, is a member of a larger order of plants that includes the Brassicaceae. It’s called Brassicales and its almost twenty constituent families include other familiar plants such as capers, horseradish and papaya. They also include the family Tropaeolaceae, of which the genus Tropaeolum is the sole member.

And that would seem to make nasturtiums and cabbages something like distant cousins!

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Can companion plants like nasturtium actual attract insect pests to your vegetable garden?
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Will Nasturtiums Attract Insect Pests to Your Garden?

So, does growing nasturtiums in your yard bring insect predators to your vegetable garden? That’s probably a question for a master gardener. As I said, I’ve never had problems with insects attacking my nasturtiums. So I have no personal experience to draw on in answering that question. What I can say is that it’s best to experiment a bit and see what happens in your own garden. And it may take several years of trying different things before you get an answer that makes sense.

I’ve always grown nasturtiums in garden pots or hanging baskets. And I’ve usually grown them close to the house, rather than in a vegetable patch or raised garden beds. This may be part of the reason my plants didn’t attract some of the pests that others are seeing, particularly the slugs.

Using Nasturtiums as a Trap Crop

One thing you may want to try if you’re overrun with pests that attack your brassica plants is to use nasturtiums as a trap crop. Try to time the planting so your nasturtium will be blooming right around the time that you normally see the yard pest that you want to target. For example, if aphids are an issue in your organic vegetable garden during May and June, this is when you need your nasturtiums to be their most attractive.

Plant them close to your brassicas so the aphids will go to them instead of your developing broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Then watch the nasturtium plants for signs of an aphid infestation. You want to cut back the affected growth and take it well away from your garden, removing the aphids with it. This will help remove some of the pests from your garden. And not to worry, nasturtiums do grow back after being pruned!

You’ll have to play around a little with the timing, placement, and number of nasturtiums you plant. Depending on how many insects invade your garden, you may want to plant nasturtiums right next to your brassicas and other vulnerable crops. And of course, if you were wanting to harvest the nasturtium leaves or the plant’s edible flowers, you’ll want to have another planting elsewhere in your yard, where it’s less likely to be eaten by the bugs.

As I said in my introduction, do it yourself pest control can take a little working out. Then again, starting a home vegetable garden or maintaining an existing garden has to be viewed as an investment in your family’s health. Growing your own vegetables organically is one of the best ways you can be sure you’re putting healthy food on the table every day. So don’t be discouraged if it takes time to learn which pests you’re dealing with and to become familiar with their habits. Eventually, you’ll have all kinds of strategies for yard pest control – and for enjoying those lovely nasturtiums alongside their brassica cousins!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Summer is Here All Too Soon! Is it Too Late to Plant Seeds in My Garden?

The end of spring is always a busy time around our house. There are field trips, recitals, cadet activities, and special presentations for weeks leading up to the end of the school year – a time when we would rather be outside getting the garden started. Now I understand why my mother never put her garden in until the end of June!

Ideal Planting Time

But by June and July, many other gardeners are already harvesting early crops such as lettuce, kale, radishes and turnips. As I write this, we have already received two weeks of our CSA deliveries from Cartwheel Farm. So is it too late to plant a garden?

Ideally, some seeds should go into the ground as soon as it can be worked. Onions, peas, and spinach are very early crops. Right around your last frost date, you can start planting root vegetables, celery, brassicas like cabbage and broccoli, and most greens. More tender vegetables follow a few weeks later, and your entire garden should be planted within a few weeks of that last frost date. That means, for most of us, our gardens should be well in order by mid-June.

Starting a Late Season Garden

How many of us start out buying our seeds or even planting those early season crops, and then get too busy to be out in the garden? And there are plenty too, who only start thinking about planting a garden once they start to see all the lovely spring produce at the farmers market.

Luckily, it’s not too late to plant a garden if you want to start now. You may want to pare down the number of crops you are growing. You may also have to hold off on plants with a longer growing season. But there are still plenty of fast-growing vegetables, as well as some that are tolerant of the cold and can be planted in the later weeks of summer.

General tips for planting late in the season:

  • Know your first frost date and check the “days to harvest” on seed packets to determine if there’s enough time left to grow the seeds you’ve chosen

  • Look for seed varieties with the word “early” on the packet

  • To get a head start on your growing season, buy and transplant vegetable starts – especially those that are already flowering or bearing small fruit

  • Choose vegetables that are cold-tolerant to extend growing into the fall

  • Plant in a sheltered place that will stay warmer towards fall

  • Think about planting in containers that can be moved to a warmer spot at the end of the season

  • Use row covers and cold frames to extend your growing season into the fall or even winter

 

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Radish

At about 20-30 days to harvest, radishes are probably the fastest growing vegetables and one of the quickest to germinate too. This is one of the reasons that gardeners use radish seeds to help mark the rows for the slower-growing carrots in the vegetable patch.

Radishes can be planted in succession weekly throughout the spring, then again towards the fall. If you’re getting a late start, try planting some of your radish seeds about 1/2” deep and others a little deeper. The ones closer to the soil will germinate first but the ones you plant deeper will give you larger radishes. This extends your growing season a bit. Remember to eat the radishes you thin from your garden too! Radish greens are quite edible.

Radish varieties to try:

‘Early Scarlet Globe’ (24 days): this heirloom radish is a classic; great for bunching and market sales

‘French Breakfast’ (20-25 days): a French heirloom known under the name ‘Radis Demi-long Rose à Bout Blanc,’ this is an early market variety; oblong red radishes with white tips and white flesh; mildly spicy taste

‘Helios’ (30-35 days): a delightful heirloom variety with yellow skin and white flesh, named for the Greek god of the sun

‘Philadelphia White Box’ (30 days): a spicy white heirloom radish that grows well in the garden and can also be forced in containers

Grow radishes for the roots and their greens
Radishes are probably the fasted growing vegetables at only 20-30 days to harvest
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Swiss Chard

Although chard is one of the plants you can sow very early in the season, it’s OK if it gets a late start. Chard takes 50-60 days to reach maturity, but it can be eaten when the leaves are young and tender. And it’s moderately cold-tolerant, so you don’t have to worry if you get a frost before it’s all grown. I’ve picked lovely, crisp chard from my garden late into the fall. One year, we actually had snow on the ground and the chard wasn’t bothered at all!

Not sure which chard to grow? You can go with a classic heirloom variety like ‘Fordhook Giant.’ But I love the gorgeous colours of the chard mixes that most seed catalogues offer. Look for them under names like “Rainbow,” “Celebration,” or “5 Colour.”

Peas

Peas take around 60-70 days to mature, so it’s still safe to plant if you have that long until first frost. Don’t have long enough? That’s OK. You can grow the plants for the pea shoots and tendrils. It only takes about a month before you can start harvesting your first, small pea shoots. If your pea plants happen to flower, you can eat the pea blossoms too!

Pea varieties to try:

‘Amish snap’ (60 days): An heirloom snap pea that grows very tall vines; known for its superior sweetness; these peas were grown by the Amish even before the official discovery of sugar snap peas in the 1970s

‘Blue Pod Capucijner‘ (70 days): These delightful purple-podded peas are a Dutch heirloom; flowers are bicolour pink and wine, and fade to blue as they wilt; use as a sugar snap pea prior to the full development of seeds, or allow the pods to grow leathery and harvest as a soup pea (also good in casseroles and porridge)

‘Tom Thumb’ (50-55 days): The tiniest shelling pea, this heirloom is perfect for growing in containers and is especially known as a winter pea that can be grown in cold frames; William Woys Weaver says the peas will survive for several days below freezing; the tiny white blossoms are tinged with green; vines only reach 6”- 9” in height;

Important note: Do not try to eat ornamental sweet peas, as these are not safe for consumption.

Lettuce

Some lettuces are quick to bolt once the summer heat sets in. So if you decide to plant lettuce later in the season, look for varieties that are slow to bolt. Leaf lettuce is easier to grow than head lettuce if you’re getting a late start. Remember that lettuce – and really all of the greens in your late-start vegetable patch – can be stretched by picking it in a cut-and-come-again fashion. Just trim away a few of the outer leaves from each plant and let the rest grow a while longer.

Lettuce varieties to try:

‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ (45 days): This heirloom looseleaf lettuce is very popular; known for its tender, ruffled leaves and delicate flavour; easy to grow from seed

‘Gaviota’ (28-35 days): This is slow-bolting tango-type lettuce with deeply lobed, curly leaves; best for baby greens that add loft and bright green colour to a salad

‘Red Sails’ (45-55 days): An All-American Selection in 1985, this red-tipped savoy lettuce is pretty enough to be used as an edging plant; plant in containers or straight in the garden; baby greens are ready in just 28 days

Other Vegetables to Try Late in the Season

  • Arugula

  • Beets

  • Brussels Sprouts

  • Bush beans

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Collard greens

  • Kale

  • Parsnips

  • Spinach

  • Turnips

  • Zucchini

Did you know you can still be planting seeds in your garden in July? Check out this awesome July planting guide with ideas for every region of the US. And come August, it’s time to plant late-season greens and root vegetables for a fall harvest. So you’ve still got lots of time to enjoy your vegetable garden!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured image created in Canva using a CC0 photo from Pixabay user Patricia Maine