Did you know that growing broccoli is not as hard as you may think it is? The key to growing this vegetable is to understand that it is a cool season or Cole crop. What exactly does this mean? Well, what it means is that this vegetable loves cool weather and once it warms up, this vegetable has a response called bolting. The term bolting means that the plant will send up a flower stalk and produce seeds. Once that happens, the plant’s growth begins to slow down and the edible parts become bitter. While broccoli can still be eaten after it bolts, the flavors are just not there.
To learn how to grow broccoli, we first need to discover what is available for us to grow. Broccoli comes in four types, which include large head, sprouting, romanesco, and broccoli raab. Large head broccoli is the domed head varieties that we see in the grocery store. Sprouting broccoli, on the other hand, is a bushier form of broccoli that still produces domed heads but they are smaller and more numerous. Romanesco varieties are the most decorative of the broccoli types. This plant produces heads that are swirled and pointed on the top. Finally, there is the broccoli raab, which is a form of broccoli that produces underdeveloped flower buds.
Now that we know what are choices are as far as broccoli goes, let’s take a look at how to grow it. Broccoli can be started indoors or directly seeded into the garden bed. The technique you choose depends on your time and how soon you want to be able to harvest. To begin with broccoli, we will first look at how to start your broccoli indoors for an early harvest.
The first step in this process is to pull out your calendar. If you want to be able to harvest your broccoli in the early summer, you will need to count back 6 weeks prior to your local frost free date or the last time you can expect a frost. Once you have that date, mark your calendar. On the other hand, if you want a fall crop you will need to count back 12 to 14 weeks prior to your local frost date. Again, mark your calendar with this date.
Now that you have a planting date, the next step is to prepare to start your seeds indoors. The first step of this process is to prepare the flat or shallow pot. To do this, one must first clean and sterilize the container. This is easily done by filling a basin with water and a capful of bleach. Once that is done, place your flat or container in the water and allow to soak for a few minutes. After this has occurred, scrub the container and rinse in fresh water. Sit the container out to dry before moving on to the next step.
Once the flat or shallow container is dry, fill with a good, all-purpose potting soil mix and tap down. Next, plant your seeds so that they are ½ deep in the soil. Cover the seeds with soil and gently water them in.
Place your planted flat or container in a sunny location and monitor soil moisture.
In about 7 days, you should begin to see little green dots. These dots are an indication that the seeds have germinated. Continue to care for your broccoli as described above but……….prior to planting your broccoli in the garden you will need to harden them off. What this process entails is gradually exposing your plants to their outdoor environment. For spring planted broccoli, this means placing them slowly outside when they are 4 weeks old or 4 to 6 weeks for fall planted broccoli.
While you are waiting to get your broccoli seeds in the ground, this is a great time to prepare the garden soil. The first step of this process is to remove any unwanted plant material. After that is done, break up the soil by tilling or hoeing it. To aid your broccoli, lay down 2 to 4 inches of well seasoned compost or a thin layer of seasoned manure. Once that is done, mix these ingredients into the soil.
The next step is to mark your rows. To do this, first push a stake into the ground where you want to start. Tie off a string on this stake and run the string down the garden space to the point by which you want to stop the row. Next, push down another stake and tie off. Repeat this process for all the rows you want to create but make sure to leave 36 inches between rows.
Now, you could leave the row markers up and plant or you could mark the area with powdered milk. Either approach will work.
The next step in this process is to plant the broccoli seedlings. Broccoli needs to be planted so that there is 12 to 24 inches between plants but this also depends on the “head” size you are looking for. The planting process is easy and only requires you to first remove the seedling from its container and placing in a hole that is no deeper than the depth of the container. Once that is done, fill in around the broccoli roots with soil and repeat for the remaining seedlings.
Continue to monitor soil moisture and water as needed. Having said that though, avoid watering the heads of the broccoli. Keeping the heads can cause downy mildew of the head and leaves. To avoid this, only water the soil.
To help extent the broccoli growing season, consider mulching the garden space. This technique will serve three purposes. One, it will help control weeds, which is very important since broccoli is a shallow rooted plant and can be damaged by pulling weeds, and hoeing. Second, it conserves soil moisture. Finally, it keeps the soil cooler, which can extend the growing season.
Once the broccoli seedlings have been in the ground for 3 weeks, it is time to feed them with a high nitrogen fertilizer. How do you know if the fertilizer is high in nitrogen? Well, the answer is easy and only requires you to look at the container. A fertilizer whose first number is higher than the rest is a high nitrogen fertilizer.
While the directions above were given for starting broccoli indoors, the process for directly seeding into the garden bed is much the same. The only exception is that the seeds should only be planted in the spring once the soil temperature has reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As far as planting for a fall harvest, the only rule applies is to get it in the ground 12 to 14 weeks before a killing frost.