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Growing Broccoli, A Gardener

Growing Broccoli, A Gardener's Perfect Guide

Unlike some vegetables, broccoli is well-known for its amazing temperature endurance.  Its ability to withstand extreme temperature swings makes it ideal for almost any garden. Broccoli germinates well during the cool, moist periods of the year, making it a perfect springtime crop. Whether a first-time gardener or an old pro, consider these helpful tips and tricks for creating the perfect broccoli crop.

Broccoli Basics

This hearty vegetable belongs to the “cole crop” family (Brassica oleracea) which includes other leafy greens such as kale, collards, cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, cauliflower, and kohlrabi.  Most gardeners successful harvest two broccoli crops per year during both Spring and Fall. Because of its unique heat tolerance, broccoli is a successful crop in many parts of the country regardless of climate.

Although there are three specific broccoli types, one of the most common varieties is the “Calabrese broccoli,” often abbreviated to simply “broccoli.” This variety originated in Italy and arrived in the States via immigrants in the 1900’s. It grows in a beautiful bluish-green hue with fast-growing side-shoots.  It reaches a height of about 30″-36″ inches with a 5″ diameter at the crown. This tough broccoli variety grows well for Fall harvests.

Other great varieties include the “Green Goliath,” “Green Duke,” and the “Flash.”  All three are very heat-resistant and do well in warm to moderate climates for Fall harvests.

Sowing The Seed

Broccoli germinates well in cool, moist soil.  It’s best to plant your seeds about 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost.  The timing may be somewhat tricky to judge; consider asking other gardeners with seasonal experience. If you choose to plant a Fall crop, aim to plant your seeds about 85-100 days before the first Fall frost.  This timing usually falls around mid-to-late summer.

Broccoli seems to grow best by germinating the seedlings in an indoor planter or within the shelter of a greenhouse.  If you’re concerned about your plants freezing, opt for this fail-proof method. After the seedlings sprout, transplant them into your garden at about 3-4 weeks old.

If planting in your garden directly, place your seeds about 1/2 inch deep 12 to 24 inches apart.  If you wish to plant multiple rows, always space the rows at least 36 inches apart to avoid overcrowding.

Freshly harvested Broccoli seeds can be seen above. The seeds resemble small little pebbles and measure 1/8″ in diameter.

Soil Preferences and Nutrition

Broccoli thrives in slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6-7.  This acidity helps prevent some types of soil diseases such as “clubroot.” Test your soil before planting to ensure it contains the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Depending on the reading, balance the soil levels with lime or a cottonseed meal fertilizer.

Liquid fertilizer or “plant food” is very effective for maintain plant nutrition and soil quality.  Depending on your brand, follow the directions for regular feedings.  A consistent fertilizing schedule keeps the soil rich and healthy for your plants.

Hydration Needs

Broccoli requires a consistently moist environment.  If you live at a higher elevation with drier soil, always insulate your soil with high-quality mulch or compost to help preserve the moisture and prevent your seeds from drying out. This is critical if you live in a warmer climate.

However, the opposite is true if your average planting temperate is too cold.  For more extreme temperatures, insulate your garden with black plastic or garbage backs to lock in a stable temperature and prevent your moisture from being stolen.

Water your seeds weekly with about 1 to 1/5 inches of water total per plant.  Always take rain into account and avoid over-watering.  If you’re concerned about accidentally over-watering your plants, use a garden rain gauge to measure rainfall.

Lighting and Temperature

Although broccoli naturally copes with colder temperatures, it still needs a steady source of warm, nourishing light.  Each plant needs about 6 hours of moderate sunlight.  Soil temperature should remain at about 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid too much harsh, direct sunlight, however.  Too much will sap the moisture from your soil and burn new seedlings.

Always avoid getting any water on the developing broccoli crowns.  Water is reflective; droplets on the crown amplify sunlight and easily result in heat burns.

Known Pests and Diseases

Every plant has its share of garden pests and potential diseases.  These frustrating hazards can cripple even the heartiest of plants and steal entire crops.  However, with a close eye and early intervention you can successfully avoid and combat each pest and disease.  Some common garden hazards include:

  • Flea Beetles (Treat with talcum powder dusting or a homemade anti-beetle spray).
  • Aphids (Treat with a diluted soapy water solution).
  • Downy Mildew (Avoid by preventing too much extra moisture around your plants).
  • Cabbage Loopers and Cabbageworm (Remove by hand and invest in a floating row cover).
  • Cabbage Root Maggots (Regularly check the soil for eggs and maggots and invest in “cabbage collars” or similar devices).
  • Whiteflies (Deter with a soapy water solution or diluted dishwashing soap).
  • Clubroot (Carefully monitor your soil acidity and use soil supplements or fertilizer to keep it in a healthy range).
  • Rodents and woodchucks (Sprinkle blood meal, ground black pepper, and dried blood around the base of your plants.  The smell frightens them and deters them from munching on your plants).

Harvesting Broccoli

The most exciting part of gardening is the harvest season.  After all your care and investment, harvesting allows you to enjoy the benefits.  However, proper harvesting and storage techniques are critical for fully enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Broccoli is ready to harvest when the buds of the crown are tight and firm.  Harvest before the crowns begin to flower! Tiny yellow flowers on the crown are a sign that you’re harvesting too late.

If using the transplanted seedling method, your broccoli will be fully grown at about 55-85 days.  Seedling grown directly in your garden take a bit longer at 70-100 days.

Cut the broccoli from the plant with at least 6 inches of its stem intact. Cut at a slant around 5 to 8 inches from the crown.

If you choose to leave the side-shoots intact you can continue harvesting for several more weeks as the shoots grow and mature.

Clean and dry your broccoli and store in your refrigerator for up to 5 days after harvesting. For longer storage, blanch and freeze your broccoli for storage up to a year.

Broccoli is a great staple for a variety of diets and tasty recipes. This hearty plant is perfect for beginning gardeners. This season, exercise your green thumb and invest in your own broccoli. There’s nothing more rewarding than producing your own home-grown vegetables.

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