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How to Grow Broccoli

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is a vegetable plant belonging to the cabbage family. It looks much like a cauliflower with large green flower heads that emerge from thick stalks clubbed together in a tree like structure. It was introduced in the United States in the early 1920’s, and has since been commercially cultivated in several parts of the country, with California accounting for almost 90% of the total production.

Broccoli

Broccoli


Growing conditions

USDA Hardiness Zones 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Planting Season Spring and Fall
Temperature 40°F-70°F
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH Neutral  to Slightly Acidic

Types of broccoli

‘De Cicco’ and ‘Calabrese’ are popular heirloom varieties that mature early and produce several shoots.

‘Flash’ is a fast growing and heat resistant hybrid variety.

‘Romanesco broccolialso known as Romanesque cauliflower has spiral patterned lime green heads. It is grown primarily for its sweet flavor and crunchy texture.

‘Packman broccoli’ is a hybrid varietythat grows vigorouslyand is characterized by its enormous 8 inch heads.

‘Early purple sprouting broccoli’ is sweeter compared to the green broccoli and grows well in most climates.

‘Broccoli rabe’ (or raab) and ‘Chinese broccoli’ are quick growing broccoli relatives that are much leafier and produce small tender shoots.

How long to grow the different broccoli varieties

De Cicco 60 days
Calabrese 60 days
Romanesco broccoli 75 days
Packman broccoli 49 days
Early purple sprouting broccoli 80 – 115 days

Growing broccoli from seeds

When to plant the seeds

 In case of a spring crop, the seeds should be sown at least 7 – 9 weeks before the last expected frost. For a fall crop, sow your seeds 85 – 100 days before the average first expected frost. Growing broccoli in the fall is more preferable as the plant develops better in cooler temperatures.

Sprouting Broccoli Seeds

Sprouting Broccoli Seeds

How to sprout broccoli seeds

Broccoli germination is a relatively easy process and can be done both indoors and outdoors.

  • Soak the seeds overnight in water.
  • The next day, strain the water and plant the seeds in the soil/potting mix at least half inch deep.
  • The seeds will begin to sprout in 4-5 days.
Broccoli Seedlings

Broccoli Seedlings

  • Broccoli seedlings will develop better if placed in a well lit area but initially avoid their exposure to direct sunlight.
  • Make sure to keep the soil moist but not wet. Water judiciously as perpetually wet soil might harm the plant.
  • Home grown broccoli often suffers from pre-mature heading due to stress. Transplant or shift to another location only when the seedlings are 6 inches tall and have developed a couple of leaves.

Growing indoors in containers

  • Select a container/pot with at least three gallon capacity that is 8- 10 inches deep with sufficient drainage holes at the bottom.
  • Make sure the container can maintain a cool soil temperature and does not heat up quickly when placed under the sun. Clay pots are best suited for growing broccoli.
  • Fill the container with soil mixed with a slow releasing granular fertilizer high in micro nutrients like boron, calcium and magnesium.
  • Seeds can be sown directly into the pots or young plants can be transplanted.
Growing Broccoli Indoors

Growing Broccoli Indoors

  • In case of a transplant moisten the roots first and then place the plant carefully, a couple of inches deep into the soil. Water thoroughly afterwards.
  • Though broccoli is somewhat shade tolerant, it is better if the plant is put on a south facing window sill or a spot that receives sufficient sunlight.

Planting broccoli in the garden

  • While transplanting young plants into your garden, make sure to put them an inch or two deeper than when they were in a pot or container.
  • If the seeds were started in the garden itself, protect the tender seedlings from strong winds and harden them by gradually increasing their exposure to sunlight.
Picture of Growing Broccoli

Picture of Growing Broccoli

  • The plants should be set in rows 12 – 24 inches apart with roughly 36 inches of growing space between each row.
  • If the soil is rich, broccoli will not require regular use of fertilizers. But, a high nitrogen fertilizer can be used in order to hasten maturity.
  • When growing organic broccoli, it is essential to use compost, manure or fish emulsions every 10 – 15 days to replenish back the nutrients in the soil.
  • Make sure to use mulch in your garden as it will keep the patch cool and also help regulate soil moisture.

Growing Tips

  • When growing for home consumption select organic broccoli seeds as they have higher nutritional value.
  • Broccoli roots are very shallow so do not till the soil (use alternate methods to control weeds).
  • Several broccoli diseases can be prevented by practicing crop rotation, i.e. growing a different plant in the subsequent season.

What to plant with broccoli?

Plants that require little calcium, such as beets and marigold, are good for companion planting as broccoli plants drain the soil of calcium. Also herbs such as rosemary, sage and mint can be planted alongside it as they help repel insects and pests.

Problems growing broccoli

Pests

Birds, especially pigeons and sparrows, tend to strip the leaves and pull up young seedlings. Scarecrows can be used to drive them away, while covering the garden patch in a net or a fine mesh is another, more effective remedy.

Caterpillars adversely damage the plants, often making holes in the leaves. They can be handpicked in case of a mild attack, while an infestation can be fought off by spraying pyrethrum.

Diseases

Clubroot is a disease caused by a soil fungus that leads to wilting of the plant. Maintaining the soil pH above 7.0 is the best way to prevent it.

Downy Mildew is caused by extremely moist weathers and is characterized by yellow patches on the leaves. Preventive measures include Buying resistant varieties, avoiding misting the leaves and keeping the plants as dry as possible.

Harvesting

Broccoli should be harvested (anytime between 9-16 weeks) before the flowers start to emerge and the head turns yellow. The best time to harvest is early morning when the soil is considerably cooler.  The head should be cut at a slant along with 6 inches of shoot. Several varieties have side shoots that grow even when the main head is harvested. It is therefore advised to harvest the main head first so the plant can spend all its energy on developing the side shoots resulting in higher yields.

Harvesting Broccoli

Harvesting Broccoli

Harvesting tip: In case of a delayed harvest, the broccoli plant progresses into its natural flowering stage. The yellow broccoli flowers can be plucked and the remaining head can be consumed; but, it has a rather mealy taste. It is therefore advised in case of a missed harvest to let the plants bloom completely. The edible broccoli flowers are nutritious and can be eaten raw or cooked.

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