Growing Broccoli: a Most Nutritious Vegetable on Earth

Broccoli (Brocks, Italian broccoli, or Calabrese) is a hardy veggie originated from the Mediterranean. This plant develops best during cold seasons. It is quite surprising considering its origin, but when it matures during colder weather, its heads are healthier and taste sweeter. In the US, it is possible for harvesting broccoli twice a year, usually in spring and autumn.

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Believe it or not, this vegetable is one of the most nutritious plants on Earth. Since mature flowers lose flavor, your goal is to get the immature heads no matter if the variety you choose has only one central floret or a few smaller flower heads instead. If the temperatures are too high while broccoli matures, its heads will become bitter and less tasty.

What Should You Know about Broccoli

What Should You Know about Broccoli

Broccoli is a hardy biennial plant tall from 18 to 36 inches (46 – 91.5 cm), with broad leaves placed around a thick stalk. It may form single or multiple ‘flowers heads’ which are eatable before blooming. In average, every household member needs two to four broccoli plants.

The US takes third place in the production of broccoli in the world. Over 90% of that production takes place in California. I was really astonished after discovering that every American eats approximately 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of broccoli a year. There are several important reasons why we shouldn’t change the healthy habit of consuming this excellent food.

Many people consider broccoli as a ‘crown jewel of nutrition’ since this veggie is low in calories, but highly rich in Vitamin A, C, and B6, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, and folic acid. Packed with antioxidants, this plant is beneficial for your health, especially for the immune system.

Believe it or not, broccoli may help people suffering from diabetes, autism, as well as heart and eye diseases. Thanks to phytochemicals these vegetables contain, they contribute to decreasing of cancer cells.

Other benefits include:

  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Detoxification

 

Broccoli

Botanical name

Brassica oleracea var italica

Soil requirement

Broccoli needs well-draining and compost-rich soil to grow healthy and lush. Take care to provide an adequate amount of microelement boron as well

Frost tolerance

It can tolerate light frost if the temperatures are not lower than 20 F (- 6.7 C)

Best companions

Onions, celery, beets, potatoes, and herbs such as chamomile, peppermint, dill, thyme, oregano, and rosemary

Worst companions

Tomatoes, pole beans, mustards, and strawberries

Watering

Give your broccoli 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 – 3.8 cm) of water a week on average. Avoid sprinkling but rather water your vegetables deeply to encourage the development of deep and strong roots

Fertilizing

Add 2 to 4 inches (5 – 19 cm) of 5-10-10 organic fertilizer or mature manure to the ground before planting your broccoli.

After collecting central heads of plants, you can encourage the production of side shoots by adding a little amount of nitrogen-rich fertilizer

Sowing

Start sowing seeds indoors in winter. Put them about 0.25 to 0.5 inches (0.6 – 1.3 cm) deep in the pots. Transplant seedlings in your garden after approximately five weeks

Spacing

Plant your broccoli in rows, about 18 to 24 inches (46 – 61 cm) apart, and provide space of 24 to 36 inches (61 – 91.5 cm) between the rows

The soil pH

6.0 to 6.8

Successive planting

The growing season is not too long for broccoli. Therefore, you should plant new seedlings every two to three weeks, and get a longer harvest

Transplanting

Transplant your broccoli seedlings in early spring

Harvesting

You can harvest broccoli twice a year, in spring and autumn

 

How to Plant Broccoli

When to plant

When to plant broccoli

For best harvesting, you need to calculate an ideal moment to plant seeds of your broccoli. If you sow seeds in the garden directly, you should do it 85 to 100 days before the first frost in autumn. However, you can purchase seedlings in the gardening center and get the first yield earlier.

Where to plant

Where to plant

Before starting planting this cool-season vegetable, you should check the temperatures outside. For the healthy and vigorous growth, these veggies need the temperatures of at least 60 F (15.5 C) during a day and can’t tolerate frost and temperatures below 20 F (- 6.7 C).

Plant these plants in early spring for the first harvest. Then leave your veggies growing over summer for the second harvest in autumn. Start sowing in pots and transplant new seedlings to your garden after four to six weeks. Also, you can purchase seedlings and plant them directly at the chosen spot.

If you want to sow seeds by yourself, place them 0.25 to 0.5 inches (0.6 – 1.3 cm) deep into the ground mixed with a thin layer of manure, and about 3 inches (7.6 cm) apart.

When you transplant broccoli in the rows, you need to provide about 18 to 24 inches (46 – 61 cm) between seedlings. Also, provide space of 24 to 36 inches (61 – 91.5 cm) between the rows. In the end, spread 2 to 4 inches (5 – 10 cm) of mulch over the top of the ground.

How to Grow Broccoli

How to Grow Broccoli

Site

Before making a detailed plan about the right spot for this veggie, keep in mind that broccoli emits allelochemicals which affect nearby plants negatively.

Soil

Broccoli Soil

You should provide well-draining and compost-rich soil for your broccoli to allow this plant growing healthy and lush. If your soil is not adequately drained, you may improve its drainage by planting your veggies in mounds.

In ideal conditions, you should plant broccoli in the clay loam or sandy soil with a pH from 6.0 to 6.8. In that case, your plants will get necessary nutrients, particularly boron. Deficiency of this micronutrient will cause the development of hollow stems.

On the other hand, too much boron in the ground is toxic to veggies. Therefore, you should do a soil test before planting this crop.

Light

Broccoli mulch

 

Your broccoli will need at least four to six hours of full sun a day. Add some mulch around every plant to keep the soil cold and moist.

Temperatures

Broccoli Temperatures

You may expect broccoli start bolting if the weather is too hot. The result will be vegetables with poor flavor and tough texture than usual. Some varieties are more heat-tolerant than others.

Bolting

Broccoli Bolting

When the temperatures in spring are higher than usual, or the soil is too warm, you may expect that your broccoli will bolt. That means that plants will go to seed.

Using shade covers and mulch as well as regular watering will prolong growing season for these veggies. You should also try to harvest your plants more frequently to avoid this unpleasant occurrence.

Watering

Broccoli watering

 

Like most veggies, these plants will need evenly watering and an adequate level of moisture. Give your broccoli 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 – 3.8 cm) of water a week on average. Avoid sprinkling but rather water your vegetables deeply.

That way, you will encourage the development of deep and strong roots. On the other hand, avoid excessive dryness of the soil between two watering. Adding compost or organic mulch will keep the ground cold, moist, and weed-free.

Fertilizing

Broccoli Fertilizing

Since the growing season for broccoli is quite short, regular applying of high-quality, organic fertilizer will bring a lot of benefits to this veggie. Also, you can apply compost tea as an ideal solution, especially for seedlings.

The best solution is adding 2 to 4 inches (5 – 10 cm) thick layer of 5-10-10 organic fertilizer or mature manure to the ground before planting your plants.

After the first harvest, when you should collect central heads of plants, you can encourage the production of side shoots by adding a little amount of nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

 

Harvesting time

Broccoli varieties

Days from planting to harvesting
Late Purple Sprouting

220 days

Waltham

95 days
ShoGun and Salad

93 days

Eureka

87 days
Legend and Land Mark

86 days

Italian Sprouting, Early Dividend, Emperor, Minaret, Love Me Tender, Packman, and Marathon

80 days
Green Comet

78 days

Green Goliath and Paragon

75 days

Violet Queen, Super Blend, Green Valiant, Raab Spring, Romanesco, Green Jewel, Small Thompson, Miracle, Sprinter, Super Dome, and Rapine

70 days

Arcadia

63 days
Gypsy and Pinnacle Premium Crop

58 days

Saga

57 days
Bonanza and Happy Rich

55 days

DeCicco

48 days
Citation

48 days

 

How to Harvest Broccoli

How To Harvest Broccoli

From the moment when you notice the forming of flower heads, you should check their growth daily. In average, you can start harvesting broccoli in 70 to 100 days when sown from seeds and 55 to 85 days when you began with seedlings.

When the petals become yellow, and tiny buds become tightly closed and begin to swell, it is the time to cut the main head from the stem. Try to cut the stalk at an angle, about 5 to 8 inches (13 – 20.3 cm) below the head that is approximately 3 to 6 inches (7.6 to 15.3 cm) wide in diameter.

After that, you will see the side shoots growing in the leaves’ axils. You can expect that heads will become better developed and larger for fall harvesting. In general, you can pick up heads when they become green, firm, and compact.

The best time to harvest your broccoli is the early morning before plants start heating up. That way, you will adequately prepare them for storing. Also, you can collect heads from one plant continually for weeks.

How to Store Broccoli

How to Store Broccoli

If you keep your fresh broccoli dry, it will last up to five days in the fridge. Don’t wash heads before the moment you plan to use them. If you decide to freeze these veggies, cut the florets into smaller pieces.

Blanch them in boiling water for a minute, and plunge them into ice water immediately for cooling. After draining and drying heads, pack them into airtight plastic bags, and put into the freezer for a couple of months.

Broccoli Pests and Diseases

Inadequate temperatures

Inadequate Temperatures

If your seedlings are exposed to the temperatures lower than 40 F (4.5 C) for a couple of weeks, the heads may form too early. The same early blooming will appear if you are late with transplanting and weather become too hot for your plants. The perfect temperature for this veggie is about 65 to 80 F (18 – 27 C).

Nitrogen deficiency

If you spot that the bottom leaves of your veggies are yellow, and those changes go to the top, your plants are probably lack in nitrogen. Help your broccoli by adding blood meal or a fertilizer high in nitrogen and low in phosphorus.

To avoid problems with pests and diseases, you need to keep your garden clean and your vegetables healthy. The main difficulties will cause:

Aphids

These tiny, soft-bodied bugs feed on the foliage of your broccoli. As a result, it becomes discolored and shriveled. If infestation is severe, you should treat your veggies with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Otherwise, using garlic fire spray or spraying the leaves with water may usually solve the problem.

Cabbage loopers

Cabbage Loopers

These brown caterpillars, with bright silver spots on main wings, lay eggs underside the leaves. Their larvae eat leaves and severe damage them.

The best way to keep these creatures under control is by using insecticides containing Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki. Those bacteria are harmless to beneficial bugs, but they will prevent the pests from chewing.

Flea beetles

Broccoli Flea Beetles

These small, black bugs may leave many tiny holes in the broccoli leaves. Consequently, they will kill seedlings and reduce your yield. Destroy those insects with an adequate insecticide.

Cutworms

Broccoli Cutworms

If you notice that your seedlings are cut off at ground level, you can be sure that those horrible creatures destroyed your young plants. Protect your broccoli by wrapping the area with cloth or cardboard or treat young seedlings with Bacillus thuringiensis.

Clubroot

Clubroot

The fungi may cause quick wilting of your veggies. Unfortunately, once this disease occurs, you can’t do anything to help your plants. Dig up all of the plants with roots and destroy them. To prevent fungi stay in the ground, you should raise the soil pH above 7.2 and sterilize it.

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