A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.
Nine Star perennial broccoli is a plant that has been on the perennial vegetable scene for many years, less well-known than asparagus and globe artichokes, but, like Good King Henry, appearing from time to time in general vegetable gardening books such as Hessayon’s The Vegetable and Herb Expert.
It looks like this…
This is my plant, photo taken this morning. It actually has eight not nine ‘stars’ at the moment.
I picked them this morning, leaving the small shoots lower on the stem to grow on for further harvests.
To maintain the plant as a perennial all the shoots will eventually need to be picked before seed set occurs. It should produce decent crops for four or five years.
Well really I think that is only a half decent crop. The outer sprouts have had to be picked just a little early to bulk up the quantity from the central head which is at a perfect picking stage. I think there are two reasons why I didn’t get fatter sprouts at this first picking. Firstly Nine Star likes a very rich soil and I think the soil where it is growing could do with a bit more enrichment. Secondly, seed for Nine Star seems to have declined in quality since it was first selected, something I discovered when I began to delve deep into old journals to uncover its origins. The earliest reference I could find to this vegetable is in The Gardeners’ Magazine 1907. Its development is credited to Mr W. Crisp of Heathfields, Fordham Heath, near Colchester, and it is reported to be a cross between one of the single headed varieties and a sprouting kind. The writer describes a specimen in its fourth year giving nine heads with three of the largest measuring 11, 10 and 8½ inches across. Now that would really be worth growing!
In later journals I have found additional references to Crisp’s Nine Star Perennial Broccoli, which agree that the plant ‘yields from five to nine good heads each year’ and ‘they are not weaklings by any means’. The need of the plant for plenty of feeding is usually emphasised and also sometimes the practice of thinning out developing shoots if too many are produced, to encourage fewer larger ones to grow. One writer says that William Crisp wrote to him, in reply to his enquiry, to say that the broccoli came up in a row of ordinary broccoli – no mention of it being a cross. Strangely there are also references to Nine Star Perennial Broccoli being developed by a Mr Charles Curtis in 1927. There must be a story there but not one I’ve been able to recover – I can only think that the main credit should go to Mr Crisp as his Nine Star is mentioned first.
So it seems that Nine Star definitely needs some reselection. Thankfully Mandy Barber at Incredible Vegetables has plans to work toward this aim alongside some other plant breeders. Mandy writes that as fewer commercial seed companies have carried the variety there has been an ever shrinking pool of seed, which has led to a lack of genetic diversity. (Certainly seed for Nine Star has been quite difficult to buy in recent years – your best chance at present is probably to wait until Pennards Plants or Brown Envelope Seeds have new stock – or go to Victoriana Nurseries for plants). Mandy has shared photos of some impressive Nine Star plants of her own on Twitter suggesting she’s starting her project with some quality seed so I’m very optimistic about the future of this project. But she wants seed from as many sources as possible in the mix, so, if you have some older Nine Star perennial broccoli plants ready to go to seed, she would love to receive seed donations. There are some tips on saving brassica seed on the Real Seeds website (but for the purposes of initially getting seed to reinvigorate the stock, the ‘minimum’ requirement of twenty plants can be overlooked. Mandy’s project will work to reverse the ‘inbreeding depression’ that results from saving seed from a small number of brassica plants.)