Friday, April 6, 2012

Growing Cima di Rapa - Broccoli Rabe in Kihei

I've been wanting to try Cima di Rapa but I've yet to find it at the local Whole Foods or Maui farmers markets. So, I decided to plant it in my fall/winter garden.

Cima di Rapa is known by several names - the most common are Broccoli Rabe, Rape and Rapini. Cima di Rapa means turnip top in Italian. I planted seeds in October, December and early January. The first variety I grew was a quarantina, or 40 day, and the center flower stalk was ready to harvest at 45 days from seed.

Cima di Rapa
45 days

One of Cima di Rapa's best assets was that it didn't attract cabbageworms and I didn't have to cover the plants with row covers or tulle. The flower-heads look like broccoli side shoots but they don't taste like broccoli. They have a stronger and somewhat mustard green like flavor.

Cima di Rapa required our coolest temps as the heat increased it's bitterness. I found the best time to plant the quarantina was in December as the October crop was too bitter. There are 40, 60, 90 and even longer day varieties of Cima di Rapa. To avoid bitter flowerettes, I suggest timing the planting of the different varieties so they produce the flower-heads in our coolest weather.

Cima di Rapa
Producing side shoots

Six days after cutting the center flower stalk lots of side shoots were ready. Like broccoli, the Cima di Rapa flowerettes will bolt rapidly. When the center flower-head begins to form, I recommend checking it every day and cutting it before it reaches the stage of developing tiny yellow flowers.

90 days

I also planted Rapini seeds that I purchased from Baker Creek. It looked like the Cima di Rapa quarantina but the plants were larger and took 3 months to produce their first flower stalk. The Rapini I planted must have been a noventina or 90 day variety. It produced larger flower-heads that didn't bolt as rapidly as the quarantina.

A Rapini flower-head

Cima di Rapa quarantina grew about as large as a typical broccoli plant but Rapini was similar in size to a Piracicaba broccoli. All of varieties I've grown can be planted in 10 to 15 gallon size containers. The plants grew well in full sun and needed daily water.

Gardeners who love Cima di Rapa, and live in a 4 season climate, plant seeds of the 40, 60 or 90+ day varieties at the same time for continuous harvesting throughout the growing season.

Cima di Rapa

Riccia di S. Marzano was a unique and lovely sessantina. At 65 days the plant was 3 ft tall and produced a center flower stalk and slender side-shoots with delicately curled leaves.


  1. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the update and the pictures. It's always a pleasure to see what people on Maui are growing in their gardens.

    I don't think I've ever eaten broccoli rabe before, but the bitterness intrigues me. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.


  2. Hi Chicago Transplant! Broccoli Rabe was so easy to grow and low maintenance. It wasn't bothered much by anything but the 90 day variety did need a lot of water. The first plants were harvested in November when it was still hot and they were way too bitter. The December/January plantings were much more palatable. It was especially good with sun dried tomatoes over pasta.

  3. I should try it! Im transpanting my winter babys.
    kiss and tx u for the information!


  4. Hi Carola! I like it but it does have a bitter flavor. It was a really low maintenance plant in my garden - it just needed lots of water.

  5. I grew cima di rapa abotu three years ago and loved it. I am looking out for seeds so I can grow some more. Yours do look fantastic.

  6. Hi Shaheen! Franchi Sementi has a large selection of cima di rapa seeds. Maybe there is a distributor where you live or you can order directly from Italy. I liked cima di rapa it was especially good in pasta with sun dried tomatoes.

  7. I am in Atlanta GA and have a rapini patch in my garden, but something is eating the leaves like crazy. would anyone h ere know what it could be? :/

  8. Hi Anonymous! I grew them here during the late fall and winter months when my biggest pest is the cabbageworm. The cabbageworms pretty much left them alone. But in the higher elevations where it's cooler gardeners can grow rapini and broccoli year round and they have problems with mealy bugs during the summer.

    You might look up images of mealy bugs and see if they look like the bugs that are on your rapini. An OMRI product with pyrethrins might work. I like Concern Multi-Purpose Insect Killer but there are other similar products. When I used this product for cucumber beetles it worked for about a week and then I had to spray again.