What do you think about? – Organic broccoli

I like having a blog, aside from its many other advantages having a blog means you get to ask people questions.  Technical questions, how to questions, scientific questions, morality questions and mundane questions.  I’ve come to the realisation that I haven’t utilised this particular advantage to its full potential, but I will starting from now.

Today’s question is of the mundane variety although at a stretch you could assign a hint of morality to it.  But first some background.

I try and grow much of my own broccoli.  During our winter it grows really well but if you grow it in Melbourne outside of late Autumn, winter and early Spring it has the tendency to become something of a bug (aphids and green caterpillars mainly) infested mess.

So during those months I usually buy it.  Often at the Farmer’s Market and sometimes at the supermarket.

At the our local farmer’s market there are both conventional and organic farmers.  I buy at both but usually get broccoli from the conventional one.  Unfortunately the best conventional veg grower retired recently and no longer comes to the market so I bought some from one of the organic sellers.

I quite often eat broccoli with oyster and chilli sauce for my lunch.  I fancied it yesterday and got out the broccoli. As I was chopping the broccoli I came a cross a caterpillar, and then another one, then I noticed that a number of the florets had clearly visible aphid damage.  Basically it was all a bit of a mess.

Which brings me to the question.  Is it acceptable for an organic veg seller to sell produce with insect damage?  Or indeed with live insects present?  And if yes at what point would you draw the line?


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to What do you think about? – Organic broccoli

  1. Amanda says:

    I garden in a place north-east of Perth where summer is uncompromisingly hot and dry, so just accept that some things are just too difficult to bother with. For me broccoli is a cool season vegetable so use silverbeet or zucchini or some other thing in it’s place. Next year I may try growing extra broccoli to freeze for the hot months, but really, it’s about eating in season as well as growing.

    • Liz says:

      I agree about eating in season. I would have thought that broccoli would still be in season in the elevated areas around Melbourne though, although perhaps it does pose extra difficulties growing it at this time of year. North- East of Perth – I feel hot just thinking about it!

  2. This is a difficult one to answer but from a personal point of view I see no reason why organic vegetables should be ‘in a mess’. I suppose we grow our veg in an almost organic way resorting to a few slug pellets to allow plants to get off to a good start otherwise we would just have munched off carrot seedlings. We grow brassicas under insect mesh to avoid caterpillar damage and carrots under enviromesh to avoid carrot fly

    I think that I would use the same criteria for buying organic produce as I use when determining what I would eat or throw away from our plot. We would cut off the odd nibbled bit but throw away anything that was covered in greenfly, I’d expect the organic produce to be tidied up a bit e.g greenfly rinsed off and really damages outer cabbage leaves removed. I would accept that I may come across the odd bug but not an infestation.

    Organic doesn’t mean let all bugs have a free reign, bugs and disease can be kept under control using organic methods – it just maybe takes a bit more effort and there is a cost implication in buying covering (although this is offset somewhat by not needing to buy spray and the time and equipment costs involved in a spraying regime) which is why I would accept paying a little more.

    • Liz says:

      I think that is probably my approach too. I don’t want to be too critical of the organic growers and enjoy misshapen veg but I do personally draw the line at green caterpillars – If I wanted to eat them I could easily grow my own.

  3. Daphne says:

    I have found insect damage in some of the produce I’ve bought in the farmers market. I typically buy IPM (integrated pest management, which is sort of between organic and conventional). I don’t know whether it is right or not, but I think it is stupid for the farmer to do that. Because the odds are that the person who gets such a damaged, insect ridden head of broccoli won’t buy from them again. They will go to a different vendor. I think if they want to sell it they ought to sell it cheap and well marked for what it is. Some things are hard to grow organically, but broccoli is not one of them.

  4. For me it would be a matter of degree. One bug might not bother me, but more than that and I would think the grower needed to do a better job with insect control. I am guessing most consumers would not be happy to find insects of any kind on their fruits or veggies.

    As for for my own produce, I am sure I have eaten a few steamed caterpillars along with my broccoli. I just try and not think about it! I am generally less worried about a bug or two than the unseen chemicals that I might be eating from the market produce.

    • Liz says:

      Its the half caterpillars that make me feel a little ill….. My mother specialises in bugs in the lettuce, its always fraught eating salad at her house.

  5. Beth says:

    I grow 80% of our fruit & veg but, like you, there are times when the climate and lack of rainfall defeat my efforts and I have to shop. I’ve had bugged produce and rotten-on-the-inside produce from growers at markets. A few thrips or aphids that can be washed off is just fine – I wash everything anyway, organic or not. If it’s really bad, like beyond edible, I’ll let them know on my next visit – the genuine ones will offer to replace. If it happens a second time within a short period, I shop elsewhere. Market gardening is like any other business – they have to win customers with good products and good customer service. I don’t have an extra level of forgiveness just because they are not using chemicals.

    • Liz says:

      I think my view is probably very similar to yours. I’m interested that you wash everything anyway – is that to remove dust etc?

  6. john westwood says:

    Always soak my veges for a while esp leafy ones and cauli + broccoli.
    Re the stall holder , tell him what the issue was and if he/she shrugs dont buy again..
    Ask what processing is done , like pressure washing .. most likely none.

    • Liz says:

      I will definitely ask – its market day again on Saturday. I think they may pressure wash as the stalk looked like it had been nibbled by aphids but there weren’t many left on it.

  7. Maree says:

    I wouldn’t mind the odd one, just shoes its relatively clean of chemicals. I would chat to the supplier as they should appreciate any constructive feedback. It;s then up to them as whether or not they take it on board. They may not even be aware of it if they had someone different pick and pack etc, so yes, I’d mention it.

  8. foodnstuff says:

    No, I don’t think it’s acceptable to sell produce with bugs, but at least it shows me chemicals haven’t been used and that’s a plus. However I don’t think the mainsteam buyer is going to be attracted towards organic produce unless it can be seen to be at least as good as the industrially produced stuff.

    Seeing a few bugs wouldn’t put me off buying organic as I understand only too well the problems of growing without chemicals. All of us have to change the way we think about how our food is grown and whether it’s healthy for us. Most bugs can be eliminated before the cooking stage, and if a food item has been damaged by insects beyond repair, well you wouldn’t buy it in the first place.

    • Liz says:

      I think my learning point is to look beyond the beautiful green flowers and to turn it over and inspect the stalk side before purchasing….

  9. I left a much longer response earlier but for some reason it has disappeared.
    Basically I said that I would use the same criteria judging commercial organic food as I do the crops that we grow. If I judged it was compost heap material them it would be unacceptable to offer it for sale.
    Organic growing doesn’t mean that bugs are given a free meal ticket just that other methods such as fleece, netting or natural predators etc are used as a means of control. Maybe the veg that you bought was produced by organic done cheaply and lazily.

  10. leanne says:

    Ha ha! This all takes me back to a childhood Christmas where we provided the salad – all from the veggie garden. My uncle asked what type of mushrooms mum had used in the salad. Terse looks were exchanged between my parents and after an awkward pause he realised he’d been eating tiny slugs and turned an organic shade of green. Our stomachs turn at the thought of eating bugs but we can so easily tune out the thought of pesticides with visually pleasing and crawlie free veggies. I’m not particularly squeamish, but half caterpillars on the plate can ruin a meal. Maybe we should stop telling our toddlers not to eat bugs!

  11. Roger Brook says:

    I am not organic but hardly ever use insecticides and fungicides. Like Sue Garrett I use cultural controls where possible including squashing caterpillars.
    I don’t think any of my produce would qualify for sale in our local supermarket – being the wrong size and sometimes my brassicas have whitefly and slug damage etc. (Actually it is surprising how few pests you actually do get without using pesticide sprays)
    Give your local organic gardeners a break!(that means over here give them a chance!)

    • Liz says:

      A break means a chance here too – although as I type that I’m not sure if its true or just a phrase I remember form the UK. I agree with you up to a point but I do think there’s a tipping point after which you need to make customers aware that the product may be a little less (or a lot less) than perfect.

  12. Dave's SFG says:

    When I was growing up (a looong time ago), I remember my mother soaking the broccoli in water with some vinegar and seeing the occasional green caterpillar float up. Yuk. We get used to expecting perfect produce now, but that comes with a price. That said, there are organic ways to avoid the pests, which I use in my gardening. You can cover your plants with spun-bonded row cover. You can use sprays that are approved for organic gardening, such as Bt and Spinosad. I think you have a right to expect the grower, organic or not, to grow the most wholesome product they can and not expect you to buy stuff that belongs in their compost pile.

Leave a Reply to Liz Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *