Days to germination: 5 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 114 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Frequent watering in hot weather
Soil: Loose soil with added lime
It will take a long time before you get to harvest your broccoli, but it is worth the wait. Some varieties of broccoli have purple crowns, but you’ll pretty much always see the traditional green versions. There isn’t as much variation available as you see in some vegetables.
Broccoli is equally tasty when served up raw or cooked, and you can eat the leaves as well as the familiar crowns of florets. You will get protein, fiber, vitamin C, calcium and beta-carotene when you eat your broccoli.
Starting from Seed
You can plant a spring crop as well as a fall crop. Direct seeding or using transplants is an option for either season, but it usually works out the easiest to use transplants for the spring crop and then just put more seed in the garden for the fall one. If your growing season is short, you may not have enough for a fall crop anyway.
For the spring planting, plant your seeds indoors about 10 weeks before your last frost date. This is probably going to be the first thing you plant for the season, so you might want to mark the date or you may forget since it is so much earlier than your other gardening chores. Though if you’re growing celery too, you’ll be planting that around the same time too.
You’ll be growing these seedlings for around 5 more weeks, so start them off in 3″ pots rather than small seed trays. Keep your pots in full sun and water them frequently. The seeds should only be a quarter of an inch under the soil when you plant.
You can put your seedlings out in the garden about 5 weeks before your frost date (which makes them about 5 weeks old). To prepare the plants for the change of environment, harden them off by setting the pots outside during the day for 3 to 4 days before planting. Bring them back indoors for the night.
Don’t plant your broccoli in the same place every year, and that also means don’t use the same patch for cauliflower, cabbage or Brussels sprouts. The same insect pests attack all the plants in this family, so move your plants around or you will find larger populations of the bugs each year.
Prepare your soil by digging thoroughly and adding a bit of lime to balance the pH. Added manure or compost is a good idea though broccoli isn’t as heavy a feeder as many other plants are. Put your seedlings out around 10 to 24 inches apart, setting them well into the earth up to their bottom leaves.
For direct seeding, space your seeds the same distance a mentioned above but plant several seeds at each spot to account for any losses. Get them into the garden around 4 weeks before the last frost date. Thin them out to 1 strong seedling per spot.
Fall crops can be either seeded into the garden a few weeks after your last frost date, allowing for enough time for harvesting before winter. The plants will survive a few light frosts.
As the weather warms up, make sure your plants are frequently watered around twice a week.
Don’t cultivate deeply between the plants while they are growing. Their roots are shallow and delicate, so try to weed by hand or keep the weeds out with a heavy layer of mulch.
Feel free to fertilize your broccoli but only use nitrogen-reduced formulas or the stalks of your broccoli can become hollow inside and possibly kill the plant.
With its shallow roots, broccoli is well-adapted to container living provided the container is large enough. Choose at least a 5 gallon pot for each broccoli plant.
You can either follow the above instructions for starting seedlings indoors, and then transplant the broccoli seedings into their outdoor pots when you move them outside. Otherwise, just plant the seeds right into their final pots. If the pots can be moved fairly easily, you can plant a bit earlier than you would in the garden as long as you move the containers indoors at night until after the frost date.
Pests and Diseases
Slugs can make a mess of your broccoli leaves, so keep them out of the garden by picking them manually or killing them by whatever method works well for you. Saucers of beer, diatomaceous earth or commercial slug poisons all help to keep them at bay. Same goes for snails.
Root maggots can also be a problem, and can be detected when your broccoli starts to wilt for no apparent reason. Dig down gently and see if there are any white worms eating at the roots. If there are, there is nothing you can do except pull up the plant to keep it from spreading.
You can help keep them out of your garden in the first place by covering the young plants with a fine mesh during the spring to keep the flies away that lay these eggs. Newspaper covering the soil between the plants can also help keep the maggot eggs out of your garden.
Adding extra lime to your soil can help protect your broccoli plants against fungus infection called club root. It can kill the plant quite quickly and there is no treatment once it sets in. As mentioned above, rotating your crops can help prevent these kinds of fungus problems.
Harvest and Storage
The green crown of the broccoli plant is actually made up of tiny flower buds. You want to harvest your crowns before those buds blossom into little yellow flowers. With a sharp knife, cut the entire crown off through the main stalk of the plant. It will keep growing, and should produce further small crowns later in the season. The crowns will start to blossom when the weather gets hot, so expect to cut your broccoli before summer really hits.
You don’t need to wait until the crown reaches full-size or maturity either. Young broccoli heads are very tender, and early harvesting allows more time for secondary heads to form for later. With just the right timing, you can get more broccoli from your plants by cutting smaller but more frequent heads from each plant.
You’ll want to try and harvest as much as you can in a fall crop before the first hard frost.
When you bring in a newly cut head of broccoli, give it a quick rinse in warm water to get rid of any dirt or small insects living in the tightly packed crown.
An average plant can produce 1 to 2 pounds of broccoli, with a full crown around 5 to 7 inches across. Some varieties will naturally grown larger crowns than others, such as Greenbelt.
Don’t leave the cut heads in the sun, or the heat can still cause them to go to flower (and ruin the head). Store them in the refrigerator and use within a few days. The crowns can be cut into smaller pieces and frozen for up to 6 months. Blanche in boiling water, and then cool quickly in ice water to help preserve the color.