Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the superhero Mustard family. Like its relatives, cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli contains important chemicals including cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Early Romans may have been the first to enjoy broccoli, but its popularity was slow to spread to other parts of the world. Now broccoli is a grocery-store staple with the potential to become “the new kale.” Some clever produce companies have started packaging the tender leaves that grow around a broccoli crown as a new vegetable they call BroccoLeaf.
How to Grow Broccoli
Timing is important for broccoli because the heads need to be harvested while weather is still cool and before the summer days heat up. If the plants aren’t in the ground in early spring, they’ll quickly bolt once the temperature starts to rise. In fact, when soil temperatures get too much above 75 degrees, the plants won’t form heads.
Broccoli can also be planted in fall. Look for short-season varieties, like ‘Goliath’, that take around 50 days to mature.
- Broccoli needs rich soil to produce good-sized heads. Amend the garden bed with plenty of organic matter, like compost, well-aged manure or other high-nitrogen fertilizer. Broccoli plants will need plenty of nitrogen to grow good-quality broccoli.
- If starting from seed, plant broccoli indoors 6 weeks before the estimated planting date. Otherwise, buy transplants from the Garden Center to streamline the process.
- Like other cruciferous plants, broccoli can tolerate a light frost, and some gardeners say this type of frost improves the vegetable’s flavor.
- Time the planting carefully so that broccoli heads will mature while the weather is still cool. Measure soil temperature and plant when the soil is in the 55-65 degree range.
- Plant transplants by spacing them 12-24 inches between plants; 20-36 inches between rows. Mulch with straw, dried untreated grass clippings, or other organic material; water in.
- Broccoli is a plant that likes sunshine but can take a little shade, too. Plant in an area that will be easy to reach early in the season when the broccoli is ready to harvest.
- Keep broccoli fed by applying a balanced fertilizer (5-10-10) a few weeks after planting. Organic gardeners may choose to fertilize with fish emulsion.
- Cabbage worms really like broccoli so use row cover cloth over plants to keep the white butterfly-like moths from laying eggs near plants.
- When broccoli heads are dark green, tight and between 4 and 6 inches in diameter, use pruners or a sharp knife to cut them from plants, leaving a long stem attached. If yellow buds have formed on the heads, it means the broccoli is past its prime.
- After cutting the central head, leave plants in place and sidedress with a high-nitrogen fertilizer to help the plants form strong, lateral shoots. These side shoots will grow a number of smaller, compact broccoli heads that are ready to harvest when they’re several inches in diameter.
- Experts recommend washing heads thoroughly or soaking them in salt water before preparing, especially if eating raw. This step helps wash away any hard-to-see insects that might be hiding deep inside.
Plant broccoli with these companions:
Avoid planting near strawberries.
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- High-quality compost and manure
- Organic mulch
- High nitrogen fertilizer
- Soaker hose
- Row cover cloth
- Sharp pruning shears or knife
To learn more about growing Broccoli or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.