By E. VinjeTweet
Chock-full of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, phosphorous and iron, growing broccoli is popular with many backyard gardeners. Belonging to the cabbage or cole family, this popular dinner side dish tastes best fresh and is prized for its cool weather hardiness and ample production.
Broccoli is a cool season annual plant that requires full sun and regular water. It does best in loose, fast draining, fertile soils. Dig in a legume cover crop or 30 lbs. of compost per 100 square feet prior to planting. Since broccoli is a heavy feeder it thrives after a legume, such as peas. Rich, well ballanced soil will prevent many broccoli deficiencies.
Tip: Humus rich soil is the key to a great broccoli harvest. Add ample amounts of organic matter to the soil prior to planting.
How to Plant:
All cole crops can tolerate frost. Broccoli transplants may be set out in the garden two weeks before the last frost. Space transplants 15-18 inches apart, allowing at least 2 feet between rows. If planting from seed, sow directly in fall for winter harvest, or early spring for a late spring harvest. As temperatures warm, mulch the growing area with compost, leaves or straw to cool the soil, prevent weeds and conserve moisture. Promote healthy growth by feeding every 2-3 weeks with a balanced organic fertilizer. Broccoli will mature 55-75 days from transplanting.
The edible portion of the plant is the flower which is harvested before it actually blooms. Cut just below the point where the stems begin to separate. After harvesting the main flower head, side shoots will develop with smaller heads so the plants produce over a long period of time. Cool season annuals will bolt (go to seed) quickly in warm weather.
Insects and Diseases:
Covering young plants with floating row cover will protect them from cabbageworms, flea beetles and root maggots. Paper collars and barriers placed around the stem of each plant, on the soil surface, will deter cutworms. Damping-off disease is a common problem with seedlings. Remove and destroy all infected plants.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Biennial. Broccoli will cross-pollinate with all other Brassica oleracea, isolate by one mile the second year when going to seed. Do not harvest heads on plants you intend to save for seed. Carefully dig the plants and pot them in sand. Store plants between 32-40 degrees F. Plant back out in early spring and allow to bolt. Harvest seed pods when dry and clean by hand.