Plant Profile: Broccoli

February 13, 2020

By Matt

Did You Know?

When broccoli was first introduced in England, it was called “Italian asparagus!”

Snapshot

  • Heading broccoli, also called sprouting or Calabrese broccoli, is a cousin to cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts, and is grown for its edible flower buds and stalks. Most varieties are blue-green with leathery, cabbagelike leaves, and grow to about 2½ feet.
  • The part of the plant we’re most familiar with is the flower head, whose buds we harvest before their yellow blossoms open.
  • Broccoli is grown as an annual in the Mid Atlantic region, and can be planted in spring for summer harvest, or in summer for a fall harvest. It will continue to grow after the first frost in fall.

What Makes Broccoli So Awesome?

Broccoli is a great early vegetable that can keep producing until the arrival of summer heat. It’s an easy crop to grow, and after you taste how tender home-grown broccoli is, you won’t want to buy it from the store again.

Caption: Broccoli
Credit: https://images.agoramedia.com/everydayhealth/gcms/All-About-Broccoli-Nutrition-Facts-Health-Benefits-Uses-and-More-722×406.jpg

This is the vegetable you probably think of first when it comes to nutrition, and with good reason: 

  • Rich in antioxidants and compounds that contribute to eye health, decrease cholesterol, and blood pressure, and it may protect against some cancers
  • Good source of fiber
  • More than an entire day’s worth of vitamin C in 1 cup
  • Provides vitamin K, folate, B vitamins, manganese, iron, calcium, and other nutrients
  • Contains more protein than most vegetables, with 3 grams in 1 cup

How Can I Grow One?

Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable and can be grown in spring or fall. Prepare a bed in full sun by adding compost and an organic fertilizer like Espoma Garden-tone, and work into the top 4 to 5 inches of soil.  

For spring planting in climates like ours, it’s best to start seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost date. Begin to move seedlings outdoors to a sheltered area for short periods after 5 to 7 weeks to harden them off, gradually increasing the length of time and amount of exposure.

After 2 weeks, transplant seedlings about 18 inches apart, about 1 inch deeper than they were in the seed tray. Cover young seedlings with a collar to protect from cutworms, and use row covers in case of an unexpected freeze. Broccoli has a relatively shallow root system, so regular water and careful weeding are necessary. Use mulch to control weeds and retain moisture. 

For a fall harvest, broccoli can be direct-sown in late July or early August. 

Caption: Broccoli Plant
Credit: Loic Venance, Getty Images
https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/EDDECAA5-38F2-4791-A5C2E4E6DB52AE23_source.jpg?w=590&h=800&1178708B-E756-46FC-B68DDD66EE1FD25F

Most cultivars mature 55 to 65 days after transplanting, so watch closely as heads reach maturity. Heads are best harvested when buds are still small and tight, well before yellow flowers begin to show. Remove the large central bud clusters first, then the smaller side clusters as they mature in the weeks following the initial harvest. 

Add organic fertilizer after harvesting the central heads to help side clusters mature into smaller heads for later harvests. Avoid planting broccoli in areas where you’ve recently had other members of the cabbage family. This prevents nutrient depletion in the soil, and makes insect infestation less likely.

Two cultivars to try: Green Comet averages 55 days to harvest, and is heat tolerant.

Green Goliath averages 60 days and can be grown in spring, summer of fall. It’s tolerant to extremes in temperatures.

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