Full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and just plain delicious, the broccoli plant is also easy to grow, with a few handy tips and tricks. And it's well worth growing your own; the average person in the U.S. eats about six pounds of broccoli per year, and homegrown broccoli, eaten fresh and in season, is a definite treat.
Growing Broccoli: Quick Tips for a Successful Harvest
Broccoli isn't difficult to grow, but you do have to pay attention to a few important things, namely timing, soil fertility, and pests. Growing the right type of broccoli plant for your conditions will go a long way toward a successful harvest.
Plant the Right Type at the Right Time
Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable that thrives before temperatures start to soar, and (depending on variety) quickly bolts and becomes bitter during the heat of summer. You'll want to plan for spring or fall harvests, or maybe both. With a few important pieces of information, you can choose the right broccoli plants for your garden.
- Know your first and last frost dates. This information will let you know how soon you can plant in the spring, and when to plant if you want a fall harvest.
- If you want to harvest in the spring, or if you have a long hot season and a short cool season, you'll want to choose varieties that have a short days to maturity number. You can find broccoli that matures in anywhere from 48 to about 115 days.
- Short days-to-maturity varieties are ideal for spring harvests, while longer days-to-maturity varieties are perfect for fall harvests. Broccoli needs cool temperatures to grow well, so while it might seem like a good idea to just sow seeds for a shorter DTM (days-to-maturity) variety in summer for a fall harvest, the plants won't grow well.
Prevent Broccoli Pests
There are a few common pests that plague broccoli, as well as other members of the brassicas family, such as kale, cabbage, and cauliflower. When growing broccoli, you'll need to watch out for:
- Flea beetles: You'll know you have flea beetles if you see lots of tiny holes in the leaves of your broccoli plants.
- Cabbage worms: These are by far the most annoying and common pest you're likely to deal with. Those pretty little white or yellow butterflies that flutter around your plants? They're laying eggs, which hatch into little green caterpillars that then go on to devour your plants. You can handpick the caterpillars or treat with BT to kill them.
- Cutworms: If your plants look like they've been chopped down by someone wielding tiny axes sometime during the night, you have a cutworm problem. They tend to attack young seedlings. To prevent them from killing your plants, consider installing a tube of cardboard (toilet paper tubes work well for this) around the young plant. Bury the lower part of the collar into the soil. This will prevent the cutworms from getting to your plants.
By far, the easiest way to avoid all of these is to cover your broccoli plants with a lightweight floating row cover. These spun polyester fabrics allow light and water through but keep pests off of your plants.
Watering, Feeding, and Other Broccoli Growing Tips
Broccoli plants are fairly heavy feeders and need regular watering to grow well.
- Fertilize your plants with a balanced fertilizer at planting time, and again every four weeks during the growing season (for longer-maturing varieties) or every 2 weeks for shorter-maturing varieties.
- The plants need at least an inch, and up to an inch and a half of water per week.
- It's a good idea to mulch around the plants to conserve moisture and help keep weeds at bay.
- Harvest broccoli when the heads stop growing, and are deep green with tight, fully-closed buds. Harvest by cutting off the main head, most broccoli varieties will produce smaller offshoot heads after the main one is removed.
- Did you know you can also eat broccoli leaves? Harvest them, chop them up, and saute as you would any leafy green for a mild broccoli flavor.
Delicious Broccoli Varieties to Grow in Your Garden
You can grow broccoli no matter what type of space you have, and if you're looking for something a little different, there are options for you as well. Here are a few tried-and-true varieties to grow for a variety of situations.
Quick-Growing Broccoli Varieties for Short Cool Seasons
The varieties listed below all have the classic broccoli look and flavor, and are great options for spring harvests.
Best Broccoli Varieties to Grow in Containers
If you have a limited amount of space in which to grow, or don't have a typical garden bed at all, you can still grow broccoli. Broccoli usually needs lots of room, but these varieties are perfect for growing in a container. For best results, your container should be at least eight, and preferably 10, inches deep.
- 'Happy Rich'
- 'Royal Tenderette Hybrid'
Unique Broccoli Varieties
If you're looking for something a little different, you might want to check out the varieties listed below. They add interest to your plate, as well as something new to your garden.
- Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli
- Romanesco Broccoli - This is not actually a broccoli at all, but since it's called broccoli, let's go with it. Romanesco is more like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
- GaiLan (aka Chinese Broccoli) - This plant produces small broccoli heads on long, tender stalks.
From Italy With Love
We have Italian immigrants to thank, for bringing broccoli with them to North America in the 1800s. Now, the United States is the third largest producer of broccoli--proof that broccoli is definitely a plant worth growing. The good news is that it's easy to grow once you choose the best varieties and understand what they need to grow their best.