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Like most kids growing up in front of the TV, I watched dozens of cartoons. I always noticed how the characters, especially the children in the shows, flinched at the sight of broccoli. These cartoons made me believe that this green, tree-looking vegetable was disgusting and unpalatable. And so, like all the animated characters I saw, I avoided the vegetable at all cost!
That misconception changed when I visited a friend’s house and her mom served us Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan. I was mindblown by the flavors and texture I was experiencing in my mouth. This had to be the most delicious vegetable of all, what were those cartoons thinking?
Since then I have learned that broccoli and all vegetables are nature’s gift to us. I’ve explored countless recipes to cook broccoli. It can be eaten fresh or cooked. You can add it to your stir fry or lightly sautee it. Broccoli goes well with many other ingredients from rice, to cheese, or pasta. The possibilities are just endless!
Many of you are perhaps like me. My love for good, honest, and authentic food has brought me to venture into vegetable gardening. I started with cute containers in my kitchen and now it has extended into the backyard. I had always thought that only herbs and smaller vegetables were possible for home gardeners. But growing broccoli hasn’t been difficult to do. Armed with the right tools and knowledge, you’ll be enjoying your own ‘roasted broccoli with parmesan’ dish soon.
The vegetable resembles a cauliflower and a bit like cabbage too. They are actually of the same family and get this, broccoli is the most nutritious of the three. It is rich in vitamins A and D and packed with fiber. Broccoli is classified in the Italica cultivar group of the species Brassica oleracea.
It’s a hardy vegetable that thrives the most in cool weather. If you aren’t prepared, it can be difficult to cultivate this crop. It needs a cool climate, full sun, specific water, and soil requirements. Broccoli is a biennial but it is often grown as an annual.
The vegetable grows from 18 up to 36 inches tall and has thick and broad leaves with a thick main stalk. The large flower heads of broccoli are usually dark green in color. We are actually eating the flower heads before they bloom. When it does bloom, the buds have little yellow flowers. Tend to the Brassica oleracea var. Italica carefully, and it will reward you in many ways.
When To Plant Broccoli
The first key to successful broccoli growing is really planting the vegetable in cool weather. In the warm or humid climate, you will see the broccoli turn yellow, bolt, or turn to flower. If you can accept that what you have is an ornamental plant then maybe that’s okay. But for the rest of us who are growing vegetables, take note of this.
Broccoli grows best in a garden where the temperatures range from 80ºF (27ºC) during the day to about 60°F at night. It requires 40 to 90 days of cool-season to be ready for harvest. That’s why this vegetable is really suited for a long and cool spring or autumn without heat.
If you live in an area that experiences cold winters, start sowing broccoli seeds indoors. The time frame should be about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. When the seedlings have hardened off for 4 days, you can begin transplanting the broccoli seedling to the outdoors. This should be around 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost in spring. Young plants can withstand frost, but not a hard freeze.
Autumn and Winter Crop:
To enjoy a fall or winter harvest, start the seeds indoors in the late summer. You can set the plants in the garden in autumn for a winter harvest. You may also transplant the broccoli seedlings into the garden in midsummer in the North. Be mindful that weather that is either too cold or too warm will cause broccoli to go to seed, and you won’t see them forming the head. That’s why broccoli must come to harvest before temperatures steadily rise.
Where to Plant Broccoli
While broccoli is not suitable for hot climates, it does grow best in full sun. The site should have sun exposure of 6 to 8 hours per day. While it can grow in low light, it may grow into leggy plants with a subpar flower head. The air temperature ideally should range between 45° and 75°F (7.2-24°C).
To prevent disease and pests in broccoli plants, avoid planting in an area of your garden where Brassicaceae (cabbage family) crops used to grow.
As with all plants in your garden, always conduct a soil test. Achieving the right soil pH is essential for the healthy growth of your vegetables. For regions that experience heavy rain or have sandy soil, check to see if amendments like aged-compost are necessary. This can help supplement soil nitrogen.
For broccoli, slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is best. Plant in a bed of moist soil that’s also well-draining. It should be rich in organic matter. To ensure land fertility, work in about 2 to 4 inches of nitrogen rich fertilizer on the bed before planting. You can do this in the early spring.
Space is important for broccoli, you will need it to encourage large broccoli heads. In your garden, plant the seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart, in rows that are 24 to 36 inches apart. If you started sowing seeds indoors, and are now moving them outdoors, give them 12 to 20 inches of space apart. Ensure that the holes are deeper than what they had in their containers. If you decide to start outdoors, sow seeds 1/2-inch deep with 3 inches of distance apart.
If you have leggy transplants or transplants with crooked stems, plant them deeper up to their first leaves so they will not grow out to be top-heavy.
If you are not ready to create a full-fledge broccoli garden, growing the plant in containers is a good option to start. One single broccoli is best grown in a container 6 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. You can grow multiple plants in larger containers, keep them set apart at least 18 inches. Containers tend to warm quicker compared to the outdoor garden. Since broccoli is sensitive to heat, be mindful to move the plants into the shade when the days are warm.
Broccoli Plant Care
No matter how low-maintenance a plant is dubbed by gardeners, a growing, living thing will always need some form of care and attention. For the broccoli in your garden, you need to provide all the right steps and actions to get the maximum return.
Water is essential for the broccoli plant as it grows better with consistent soil moisture. There’s a difference between wet and moist soil, and we’re aiming for moist. Consistently at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week during the growing season. You can decrease your watering when the plants are nearing maturity and approaching harvest. Be careful not to get the broccoli heads wet when you’re watering, this will lead to root rot. Instead, water broccoli at the base of the plant.
Broccoli is a heavy feeder, that’s why adding generous amounts of nitrogen rich fertilizer to the broccoli bed before planting is a good idea. Go for well-aged compost or rabbit manure. However, overfertilizing is also dangerous for the broccoli, it can lead to hollow stems.
You can mulch around the plants to help keep the temperature down. Mulching also suffocates the weeds. But remember that the roots of broccoli are shallow, be careful not to disturb the plants. After you’ve harvested the center broccoli head, you can help side shoots production by feeding fish meal fertilizer around the base.
How to Fight Pests and Disease
Humans are not the only ones who enjoy eating broccoli, pests are known to attack our veggies too! There are cutworms, cabbage maggots, harlequin bugs, aphids, and cabbage loopers. They’ll start looking like small yellow and white moths. It’s a headache, but unfortunately, it happens even to the best gardeners. You can control these pests by handpicking them off the plants, spraying with organic pesticides, installing row covers, or hose the plants.
Some insects like aphids also cause disease in the broccoli. Common cabbage family diseases such as yellow, clubroot, and downy mildew are prone to happen to broccoli. To avoid this, rotate the crop each year, always clean the garden, and remove the infected plants asap.
Companion Planting for Broccoli
One way to fight pests on broccoli plants is to practice companion planting. There are many benefits to this technique which include efficient use of space, and creating a balance of nutrient levels on your soil. I recommend that you try this because it enhances your crops, makes them healthier and tastier. And honestly, it makes it less challenging for the gardener because the plants are doing their own thing.
You can grow broccoli with culinary herbs such as lemon balm, thyme, sage, lemongrass, basil, oregano, and mint. While these herbs give us some aromatic fragrance, they help repel pests. If you’d rather have your herbs all in one place, you can choose to plant flowers along with the broccoli. Grow flowers like marigolds, cosmos, and nasturtiums. These pretty blooms release a scent that many garden pests find repulsive. If you want to grow broccoli without insecticides harming your vegetable, companion planting is the way to go. You will have a visually interesting plot.
When the head of broccoli (the flower cluster), begins to grow in the center of the plant, the flower is generally green. A sharp knife or shears is used to cut the broccoli head about an inch from the tip. Broccoli should be harvested before you see the flower buds on the head turn and become yellow.
How To Prune Broccoli
There’s an on-going discussion on whether or not pruning is necessary for broccoli. But as you’ll read below, it’s all about what you are growing the plant for and how you want to harvest the heads. Typically, broccoli grows one central head at the top of the stalk, surrounding it are smaller clusters, or florets. These florets grow around the stalk and lower.
So before you prune, consider first what your goal is to harvest broccoli. Consider when you are planting, fall or early spring? There are three ways you may prune your plant.
Side Shoots Method
If the goal is to have a steady supply of fresh florets for your kitchen, this may be the best way for you. Those who want to harvest large heads may not take this pruning method. When the central main head is just about developing in the early spring or fall, pinch them out with your fingers. It may seem counter-intuitive to cut the head, but you will see the result after a few weeks. Once the main head has been cut, you will notice the plant growing broccoli side shoots. This way, you are helping several bigger-sized side shoots to develop instead of one regular-sized head with small shoots.
Main Broccoli Head Method
The second option is for those who prefer a large broccoli head. Pinch off all the side shoots as you see them grow. By doing so, the plant will focus all of its energies on the main head. What you will get is the largest possible head the plant can grow into. This is an effective method if you are looking to harvest many broccoli heads all at once, perhaps to sell or share with others your bounty.
This third option for pruning happens when broccoli is ready to harvest. Instead of removing the whole plant, you compromise. Cut the central stem off with a sharp knife. Go for about 6 inches down the stem. You should see small flower buds in bright green colors. Allow the plant to grow out small side shoots. Cut them off when they are ready to harvest.
Note that this method may not work well in a spring harvest because the temperature often causes the plant to bolt.
After all that care, effort, and time, your broccoli will soon be ready for harvest! Broccoli growing from seed will take 100 to 150 days to be ready for harvest. On the other hand, if you transplanted broccoli to the ground, it will be time to harvest in 55 to 80 days. According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, broccoli maturity will depend on the variety. There are some cultivars like the ‘Packman’ that can be harvested in just 50 days!
You will know when the broccoli is ready to harvest when the head is large, with dense flower buds. It should be fully developed at 6 inches to 12. Cut the buds when they are green and tight, if the buds are beginning to open, harvest immediately. If you find yellow flowers already growing in your broccoli, it’s already too late to be harvested.
Remember to cut it in a way that will encourage side-shoot production. While you will most likely harvest broccoli head that is smaller in size compared to the main head, the side shoots give you continuous growth.
Now the big question we must answer is: “when to harvest broccoli?” Experts say it’s important to harvest broccoli in the morning. You want to avoid the heat because broccoli tends to respire quickly. You can cook broccoli right away or keep it stored in your refrigerator. Unwashed broccoli heads can maintain its quality for up to six days. But damp broccoli doesn’t do well in storage. If you blanche broccoli and freeze it, it can stay for up to 12 months.
There you go! You are set and ready to grow the freshest broccoli ever. You’ll have one of the most nutritious vegetables growing in your own backyard!
Frequently Asked Questions
When do I plant broccoli?
Broccoli is a cool season crop. The best time to harvest it is when the temperatures are 75°F (23°C). To harvest a spring season and early summer crop, plant in late winter or early spring. For crops that are ready to harvest in fall season or winter, plant in mid to late summer or early fall.
How many time can you harvest broccoli?
By using the side shoot method of pruning, you can harvest broccoli for two or three times for a period of up to three months. The side shoot method involves cutting the plant on a slight angle. You can take the center head and keep the rest of the plant on the ground. With proper water and fertilizer, there will be side shoots you can harvest.
Can you eat the leaves of broccoli?
Yes, absolutely! Planted broccoli is so healthy and nutritious, and we don’t just get that from the broccoli head. The leaves or “broccoleaf”, should be harvested in the morning or evening. This gives the broccoli time to heal during the cooler time of the day. Don’t harvest more than 1/3 of the leaves, your plant needs them too! These leaves are perfect for salads and side dish. Don’t wash the leaves until you are ready to use them. The leaves can be stored for up to three days.
How big should broccoli be before harvesting?
The sizes will vary depending on the variety, but generally, broccoli is ready when the heads have reached about 4 to 8 inches in diameter. In harvesting broccoli, always pick the head before the flowers bloom.
Can you eat broccoli once it starts to flower?
There’s a misconception that broccoli that has bolted is no longer edible. The bright yellow broccoli flowers are in fact edible, but they are not as palatable. If you are after broccoli for its nutritional values, a flowered vegetable won’t be anywhere near healthy as the green broccoli head.
How do you grow broccoli in the UK?
Broccoli was introduced in the UK in 1720 and has become a “favorite.” It is quite the perfect vegetable to cultivate in the UK because the days and weather are mostly cool. The most common cultivated broccoli in the UK are Calabrese broccoli, sprouting broccoli and ‘purple cauliflower’. All three are usually known as broccoli though can also be called by their other names. The same planting and harvesting procedure works across the pond.
What are the benefits of eating broccoli?
Some health enthusiasts have called broccoli “The World’s Healthiest Food.” In many ways, these greens deserve the title.
Researchers have found that broccoli consumption can help fight chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate detoxification. These three metabolic problems in the body are found to develop cancer.
Broccoli has the ability to prevent disease. It is packed with fibre and protein. A small cup of raw broccoli gives you 116% of your daily vitamin K needs. It also have vitamin C, E, and A. You can get iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium from consuming broccoli daily.