Broccoli is a must-have cool-season crop for many gardeners. Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat, and it is even better when it's grown organically and eaten at the peak of freshness.
Where to Grow Broccoli
Broccoli needs at least six hours of full sun per day, and plenty of rich, well-drained soil. Amending the soil at planting time with plenty of compost and composted manure will result in strong, happy broccoli plants.
You can easily grow broccoli from transplants purchased at your local nursery. However, if you want to choose a less common variety, you'll need to start from seed.
Start broccoli seeds indoors, eight weeks before your last spring frost date. Harden off and plant your seedlings approximately three to four weeks before your last frost date. Broccoli should be planted twelve to 24 inches apart. The farther you space them, the larger the heads will be.
For a fall crop, start seeds indoors (or direct sow) 90 days before your first fall frost date to allow plenty of time for a fall harvest. Fall is often an easier time to grow broccoli since cabbage worm is less of a problem later in the season.
There are also several companion plants for broccoli that help broccoli grow and taste better, including onions, potatoes, and herbs such as dill and rosemary.
Growing Organic Broccoli
If you've planted your broccoli in soil amended with compost or manure, they won't need any additional fertilizing during the growing season. It's most important to make sure that they are getting enough water. Lack of sufficient water will eventually stress the plant, and it may not form heads at all if that happens. Plants that are stressed are also much more susceptible to pest and disease problems.
The plants will grow so large that they will eventually shade the soil and prevent most weeds from germinating. Until that happens, cultivate gently around your young broccoli plants, or hand-pull any weeds. You can also mulch with an organic mulch such as straw or shredded leaves, to reduce weeds and help maintain soil moisture.
Broccoli Pests and Diseases
The most common insect pests for broccoli growers are cabbage worms, flea beetles, and cutworms.
- For cabbage worms, hand-pick any of the green worms you see. You can eliminate this problem by growing your broccoli under a floating row cover.
- For flea beetles, hand-pick, or grow under floating row covers.
- For cutworms, place a cut toilet paper or paper towel tube around any newly-planted seedlings. This should protect the stem from these pests.
You can harvest broccoli when the heads have reached their maximum size (this will depend on the variety you're growing; check your seed packet), and the buds are still dark green and tightly formed. Cut each head off the plant individually; the plant may form a second crop of "side shoots"—small heads or florets that you can keep harvesting throughout the season.
Recommended Broccoli Varieties
- 'Calabrese Green Sprouting' is a delicious Italian heirloom that forms a large head, plus plenty of side shoots.
- 'Romanesco Italia' is another Italian heirloom with very flavorful, bright green heads.
- 'Waltham' is a dependable heirloom variety that forms four to eight-inch heads, as well as a few side shoots.
- 'De Cicco' forms small, 3 to 4-inch heads and lots of side shoots—this variety is great for those gardeners who want an extended harvest period.
Growing broccoli is well worth the time and effort. Delicious, healthful, and beautiful, it is a vegetable worth growing!