Broccoli is one of those vegetables that really needs to be in a home garden. The flavor of home-grown, plant-ripened broccoli is far superior to that purchased at the grocery store.
It is good fresh and in salads, but is also heavily used in soups and casseroles, usually with a lot of cheese and/or cream. Broccoli also freezes well after blanching, so it is very preservable.
Broccoli is also good for you - Burpee's Vegetable & Herb Gardener book notes that "recent medical research shows the vegetable to have cancer-fighting qualities... sulforaphane... stimulates the body to make enzymes that counteract carcinogens"
One important note: cole crops should be soaked in salt water after picking - it's the best way to remove bugs, caterpillars, and other undesirables on the plants.
Broccoli is one of the first crops in the garden in the spring, and one of the last remaining in the fall. This is due to its relatively short growing season, which allows for two plantings, roughly in March and August. Broccoli likes growing in the cooler months, so April and September usually provide good conditions.
Broccoli should be planted with other cole crops (cabbage, kale, etc.), and because it is planted in harsh conditions in March (occasional frosts) and August (occasional high heat), the transplants really need to be big and sturdy, so start them early.
Harvest when the heads are large but before flowers turn yellow. Localized flowering does not ruin the flavor of broccoli, but it doesn't help it either. Harvest by cutting off the head at the stalk a few inches below the head, but leave the plant in the ground - the stalk will produce florets on 'side shoots' that can be harvested for the next couple weeks.
One of the biggest issues with growing broccoli is cabbageworms. Without control, these things will eat the leaves all off, and the result will be a poor harvest. Control is done in multiple stages: upon transplant, many people put small rings/tubes around transplant to keep away things that crawl, and later, Bacillus thurengesis (Bt) is the preferred control, applied as a spray. There has been research indicating that Bt may not be harmless to mammals, but this research is generally inconclusive and unconvincing, and I choose to use it on my cole crops.
Generally, broccolis grow large enough hat they shade the ground beneath them, but it should be recommended to mulch the ground as well, which I do with the previous year's leaves.
Broccoli is a biennial, so you'd have to let it in the garden 2 years to save seeds. Besides, it cross-pollinates with cabbage and Brussels sprouts, so unless you don't plant those, you wouldn't necessarily get broccoli from the seeds you save.
As many other crops, broccoli fertilizer recommendations vat widely:
- 2.5 lb 5-10-10 / 50 sq ft 7 days prior to planting, 1/4 C 21-0-0 / 5 ft row that at 28d after planting and when heads start to form.
- 1.5 lb 10-10-10 per 100 sq ft when plants are 4-5" tall
- 1 C 21-0-0 / 10 ft row when heads start to form
- 5 lb. of 10-10-10 per 100 sq ft before planting, side-dress every 3-4 wk with 1/2 lb 10-10-10 per 10-ft row (Crockett's Victory Garden)
My recommendation is to roughly follow the first of these - 2.5 lb 5-10-10 / 50 sq ft 7 days prior to planting, 1/4 C 21-0-0 / 5 ft row that at 28d after planting and when heads start to form.
Freeze broccoli either by blanching for 3-5 minutes before freezing or by preparing a dish (e.g. cream of broccoli soup)
Matt's Garden Notes:
Matt's 2013 Map
Matt's 2013 Brassica Map
2012: Planted about 6 broccoli from storebought transplants, all grew well. Provided just enough for fresh eating and one Chicken Divan. Tried again in the fall, got very little in return. Not sure exactly when I planted these.
2013: Seeded about 20 broccoli during the first and second week of FEB, moved outside 16 MAR. It was an incredibly cold spring, and we got several nights of 27-28 degree lows after that date. Some of the transplants did not look well, so I replaced many of them with storebought. Lesson learned is that I need to get them bigger and stronger before transplanting, and wait to put them out until the weather will be nicer.
Recipes using Broccoli: