Broccoli! Some people love it right from the start, while others appreciate it in their adult life. Have you heard about the incredible health benefits broccoli has? What about its nutrient-rich profile? It is full of vitamins and minerals and is a good source of Vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, iron, and fibre!
Still not convinced? It is good for heart health, builds strong bones, is good for eye health and can even promote healthy digestion! It is also easy to plant and needs low maintenance. Sounds appealing, right? Are you thinking of growing your own broccoli? You may already know how to grow tomatoes, garlic, or even avocadoes, but what about broccoli? Find here all you need and a step-by-step guide to growing this amazing plant!
Table of Contents
There are many broccoli varieties to choose from. Consider the best for you according to its climate needs, the time it needs to grow and the results you want. Here is the main information about this vegetable and the most common broccoli varieties.
Name – Brassica oleracea var. italica
Family – Brassicaceae
Type – Biennial vegetable
The word broccoli means ‘little sprouts’ in Italian. It belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables, being close to cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbages, and many Asian greens. Broccoli and calabrese are different varieties of the same vegetable, although they are usually sold as the same in most supermarkets. Calabrese produces big green heads, whereas broccoli has smaller green, purple or white ones.
The large-headed variety is the most common one and is great if you have plenty of growing space. These broccolis produce large crowns between fall and spring and take 50 to 70 days to mature if you plant them in the spring. If they are planted in the fall, they need 65 to 90 days. Large-headed varieties include:
Sprouting varieties have a bushy appearance and small crown size. They mature best between fall and spring. These broccolis take 50 to 70 days to grow if you plant them in the spring and 65 to 90 days if planted in the fall. Sprouting varieties include:
- De Cicco
- Purple Peacock
- Purple Sprouting broccoli
If you have good quality soil, go for a romanesco variety. These varieties grow in cone-shaped crowns and are crunchy when eaten. They need plenty of water and prefer temperatures in the 25-degree range. These broccolis take 75 to 90 days to mature if you plant them in the spring and 85 to 100 days if planted in the fall. Romanesco varieties include:
- Romanesco Italia
Broccoli raab variety
If your area has a cool climate and you want to grow broccoli quickly, broccoli raab is the variety for you. You harvest these varieties as flower buds, making them richer in flavour than others. If you plant them in the spring, they take only 40 to 55 days to mature. If planted in the fall, they need 50 to 75 days. Broccoli raab varieties include:
- Early Fall Rapini
- Sessantina Grossa
How to grow broccoli from seed
Broccoli can be tasty and is full of healthy vitamins. It is easy to grow and requires little maintenance throughout its growing cycle. So, who wouldn’t want to produce its own broccoli? You can either grow your seeds indoors or outdoors. Choose an area in your garden with a lot of sun and rich soil, and let’s start planting! We have a step-by-step guide to help you achieve the best results in both cases.
Step 1: Test your soil
Broccoli plants prefer soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. After you level your garden, you should test the soil and add nutrients to adjust its acidity. It will help to test the soil periodically throughout the growing process. The soil test results will also tell you if it lacks any essential nutrients. In that case, you can add what’s missing with soil amendments.
- You can find soil testing forms, bags and instructions in your local agricultural extension office.
- If the pH level is below 6.0, add planting mix or acid compost.
- If the pH level is above 7.0, mix in granular sulfur.
Step 2: Ensure that the soil drains well and is fertile
If your soil test shows that you have low-quality soil or that it drains poorly, there are some things you can do to prepare your garden for planting broccoli:
- If the soil is prone to flooding, you can build a garden bed to raise it above the ground. Using cedarwood to make your planter box would be a wise option, as it doesn’t rot when exposed to water.
- To increase the soil’s fertility, mix up to 10cm of mature compost into it. You can also add plant food and a high-nitrogen organic fertiliser to enrich the ground if it is in poor condition.
- Prefer organic fertilisers like cottonseed meal, alfalfa, and manure for your broccoli.
Step 3: Choose the right place to plant your broccoli
Broccoli prefers full sun, so you should choose a sunny area in your garden. It can also tolerate some shade, so an area of that kind wouldn’t be a problem.
Step 4: Direct-sow your broccoli seeds outdoors
- If you want to have a summer harvest, sow seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost date in spring. For a fall harvest, sow broccoli seeds 85 to 100 days before the first fall frost.
- Alternately, you can start your seeds indoors. Plant them in small seedling pots, like peat pots and keep them in a sunny room. Then, transplant them to the garden 2 or 3 weeks before the last frost. Keep in mind that you won’t need to thin them later if you plant them in separate pots.
Step 5: Plant the broccoli seeds
You should plant your seeds in widely spaced rows.
- Organise your plot into rows about 90 cm apart.
- Dig holes every 30 to 60 cm along each row.
- Place a few seeds in each hole.
- Cover with soil.
- Alternately, you can sow your seeds every 15 cm and thin out the smaller or less healthy plants as they grow.
- If you are planting outdoors, use a rake to smooth the soil over the seeds. Be careful not to disturb the seeds themselves.
- If you are planting in peat pots, pat the soil over your seeds with your fingers.
Step 6: Water thoroughly
Broccoli enjoys good drainage. After you are done with sowing your broccoli seeds, water thoroughly. You should drench the soil, but make sure you won’t leave water puddles. In case you planted the seeds indoors, dampen the ground with a spray bottle.
Step 7: Regulate the temperature of the soil
If you are direct sowing outdoors, you should keep the soil cool. Apply an organic matter of mature compost, leaves, or bark to achieve that. If you are planting in cool temperatures, use a black plastic covering to heat the soil. You can find these at your local garden supply store, but any sturdy black plastic like a tarp will work.
Step 8: Thin your outdoor seedlings
Spacing determines the head’s size of the plant you’ll produce. When the outdoor seedlings reach 2.5 cm in height, you should thin the plants to give them space to grow. Remove smaller or unhealthy-looking plants until the remaining ones are 30 to 60 cm apart. This will prevent overcrowding while the broccoli plants will continue to grow.
Step 9: In case you are transplanting indoor seedlings
- Transplant broccoli seedlings when they are 10 to 15 cm in height. This will take about 6 weeks to happen. The plants’ height and development are more important than the duration of the germination process.
- Before you set out the seedlings, water the bed thoroughly. You should have completed the proper soil preparation we outlined above, including fertilising the soil, before moving your seedlings.
- Dig holes about 8 cm deep and then space seedlings 30 to 60 cm apart. Position the plants to the same depth they were in the pots. If you have miniature varieties, you can plant them as close as 30 cm apart.
- Keep the soil cool for summer plantings, applying an organic mulch of compost, leaves, or bark. To heat the ground for winter plantings, use a black plastic covering.
- Dampen the soil after the process with a thorough watering.
Broccoli is not a high maintenance plant but needs proper care to thrive. Here is a complete guide of your broccoli needs, so you can keep it happy and enjoy its harvesting!
- Light: Broccoli grows best in a spot with full sun, as most veggies. If you live in an area with a scorching climate, it may be necessary to offer them partial shade to prevent bolting.
- Soil: Broccoli fancies a neutral soil pH, around 7.0. To keep it growing strong, provide rich soil, with lots of organic matter, during the growing season.
- Water: Watering plants the right way is one of the most crucial factors for their health. You need to water broccoli regularly to keep it well-watered, especially during dry periods and drought conditions. Typically, it needs 30 cm of water per week. Don’t get developing broccoli heads wet while watering, as it can encourage rot.
- Temperature and humidity: Broccoli plants do best in cool weather. They like early spring and fall temperatures between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius. They begin to suffer when the temperature reaches 26°C.
- Fertiliser: When you have rich and fertile soil, broccoli plants shouldn’t need supplemental feeding. Although, if you want to hasten maturity or they look like they need a boost, fertilise them 3 weeks after transplanting seedlings into the garden with a low-nitrogen fertiliser like fish emulsion.
- Extra care: Thin when young plants reach 60 to 90 cm tall. Plants should be between 3 and 6 metres apart. Use mulch to suffocate weeds and help to keep soil temperatures down. You could also use weed killers. If your broccoli is a bit top-heavy, it is worth staking the plants by tying them to a wooden stake. Finally, use row covers to minimise pests.
- When your plant starts to produce its florets, it is ready to harvest. Don’t wait to harvest your broccoli until it grows a large head as you see in grocery stores or until the buds begin to flower into light green or yellow flowers. You should harvest broccoli heads when the buds are dark green and tightly closed.
- See “Broccoli varieties” above to know the exact growing times for specific varieties.
- With garden shears or a sharp knife, cut the central head where it meets the stem. Be careful not to break the crown off. A clean-cut will encourage new growth.
- It is better to harvest broccoli in the morning before it heats up since it has a high respiration rate.
- After cutting the main head, give time to the plant to grow smaller side shoots in the axils of the leaves. These new flower heads will be smaller than the initial head but very delicious. As long as you keep harvesting, they will keep producing.
- If you live in an area where spring heats up fast, broccoli heads are often more suitable for a fall crop and not in a spring one. Plant in late summer and try again for a bigger head in next year‘s harvest.
Keeping your broccoli fresh
Broccoli tastes better right after you’ve picked it, although you can store it in your fridge for about a week. Make sure you won’t wash your broccoli before storing it; it can become mouldy in no time. It is better to wash it before eating it.
Broccoli is a very variable vegetable! You can steam it, cook it, sauté it, serve it in salads with asparagus and radishes or even eat it raw as a healthy snack! No matter what you prefer, it will add a hearty nutritional boost to many of your meals.
Common diseases and pests
Broccoli is sensitive to cabbage family diseases and pests. Find here the most common problems broccoli can face and how to treat them.
Common broccoli diseases
The main diseases include clubroot, blackleg, yellows and downy mildew. To cut back the incidence of them:
- Plant disease-resistant varieties.
- Rotate crops each year.
- Keep the garden free of debris.
- Remove and destroy infected plants immediately.
- Diminish the clubroot by raising the soil pH to about 7.0.
Common broccoli pests
The most common pests in broccoli and all cabbage family plants are cabbage looper, imported cabbageworm, cabbage root maggot, aphids, and cabbage white butterflies. These pests are more troublesome in the early part of the season. Other pests are slugs, snails and cutworms. To protect your vegetable garden from these pest insects, you should:
- Have healthy soil.
- Grow healthy plants.
- Control cabbage loopers with Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that stops pests from chewing the plant and is harmless to beneficial insects.
- Remove aphids from plants using a hard stream of water.
- Add a greenhouse or row covers at planting and remove them before temperatures get too hot in midsummer.
Broccoli is so rewarding to grow because it keeps giving you side shoots for weeks after harvesting the main head. It tastes great when cooked or steamed and has many nutritional benefits. Keep in mind that it takes some time to mature, so be patient! Are you ready to plant your own nutritional powerhouse?