Broccoli is a great entry level vegetable for those hoping to excite their kids and company about eating veg raw or cooked. Of all green vegetables Broccoli is probably the one most often raved about. It brings with it a mother lode of nutrients – ounce for ounce boiled broccoli has more vitamin C than an orange, as much calcium as a glass of milk and one medium sized spear holds three times the fibre of a slice of wheat bran bread. More technically it is said to be rich in substances called ‘isothiocyanates’ which, research has shown, stimulate the body’s own cancer combating ‘phase two enzymes’.
Broccoli is effectively a big edible flower - which you could be enjoying fresh from your garden between 6 and 12 weeks from first planting.
Companions rosemary, thyme, sage, onions, garlic, silverbeet
Quantity Around 2 plants per person
Purple sprouting Broccoli good for cooler areas
Italian Precoce Broccoli good for cooler areas
Marathon Broccoli suitable for all areas
Premium Green Broccoli suitable for all areas
De Cicco highly productive, early sprouting variety
In warmer northern areas plant from late summer through to spring Aug – Dec.
In cooler areas plant from spring through to autumn, Sep – Apr.
If you are growing Broccoli in the winter then give it as sunny a spot as you can to promote short, stocky plants. It does tend to get pretty big and those large leaves will catch any wind so a sheltered spot is useful. ‘Wind rock’ can cause individual plants to loosen in the ground and this will slow growth. Either plant in a spot that is sheltered from wind or plant a whole bunch together so that they support one another – family style.
To produce such large leaves and so big a flower this vegetable superstar needs a well-stocked pantry. Soil should be well dug through so that seedlings can nourish themselves. Beneath the surface you should ensure you have secreted a store of goodies. Sheep pellets, worm compost, chicken compost, well-rotted horse manure – all the usual suspects. Quantity-wise you could dig about two heaped spades full into every square metre (about a relaxed stride by a relaxed stride) – this does depend on your soil type but for now will be a good start. You can use liquid feeds and mulches to balance any shortfalls in the weeks following planting. For broccoli it is important to firm your soil with a rake once it has been dug through. Press the back of a metal rake down onto the soil and lean on it so that it gently firms the upper layer of soil. A bit like pressing the air out of a pizza dough after it has risen. This gives seedlings an important firm foothold and prevents them from rocking and developing loose roots that will produce a small head.
Sow seeds a finger tip deep into trays or punnets filled with seed compost. Within one or two weeks you should see shoots appearing. If sowing in trays, transplant seedlings into punnets when two sets of leaves have formed. Alternatively sow several seeds into each punnet and pinch out all but the strongest seedling. Seedlings are ready for planting into the garden when they have two or more sets of leaves.
When planting out seedlings pop them into the soil so that they are buried up to where their lowest set of leaves start on the stem. This will produce roots to just below ground level and help produce a stout and stable plant. Seedlings should be spaced at least a forearm length apart to allow sufficient space for the crown of leaves that will, in around 10 weeks, reveal its prize.
Even with a comparatively slow, large-growing plant like broccoli it is worth making successive plantings so that you are not inundated with more than you can eat all at once so spread your plantings over three week intervals.
Keep your Broccoli seedlings well mulched and weed-free as they grow and develop. Feed fortnightly with something nitrogenous such as liquid seaweed or worm juice. As with other brassicas make sure you keep firming the soil at the base of your plants and tie any plants that are getting unstable and top-heavy to bamboo canes.
When sprouting broccoli has developed a small central flower cut it off straight away to encourage development of a profusion of sweet and succulent spears that will continue to appear for some weeks if harvested regularly.
Keep an eye out for slug damage overnight. If you see evidence of attack then go on a slug hunt and utilize slug control methods.
Cabbage white butterflies are the number 1 pest. You can protect your brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cavolo nero) with fine mesh to stop the butterflies laying their eggs on the lush leaves (it’s the caterpillars that do all the damage) or you can arm your kids with badminton rackets and unleash them for a on spot of mobile target practice. Remove any visible caterpillars by hand and feed to garden birds or chickens. Caterpillars can also be deterred by treating leaves with Chilli spray or by giving them a dusting with household flour.
When the first flower heads show you can cut them after they have reached fist size or larger. Don’t think the game is over when you cut your first head because the side shoots beneath will then go on to generate further deliciously sweet, peppery shoots - ensuring continuous production (a tip is to cut the heads on a slant so that the exposed stem doesn’t collect water and begin to rot).
If you are really enjoying your broccoli then snatch some of the younger leaves and give them a try. Pull the softer part of the leaf away from the stem and steam like spinach. They are quite peppery but you might just like them.