Broccoli: How to Grow Broccoli
Many might feel hesitant about growing broccoli. It seems high-maintenance and you might wonder if it's valuable enough to become your food source. Some people aren’t big fans of the taste.
You’re probably thinking there’s no way anybody’s going to convince you about liking it, ever. It’s time to bust some myths about this emerald - or sometimes purple head. Armed with the right information, it might even end up being your favorite vegetable.
Broccoli belongs to the Brassicaceae family and is a unique looking vegetable with a noticeable cluster of florets that form a head atop a thick stem that’s surrounded by irregular, wavy, oblong leaves. It has been around as a food source for most households for many years, possibly dating as early as the Roman times.
The vegetable’s name is derived from broccolo, the Italian plural form that means “flowering top of cabbage.” Despite its reputation for having a rather unpleasant taste for some, there’s a constant demand for it all over the world.
So many recipes have been created out of this humble vegetable as most of its parts are edible and very nutritious. A lot of factors separate it from other vegetables: it’s considered healthier than some, it is more filling, and it’s easy to prepare and to grow. Read on to know more.
Facts About Broccoli
Did you know that the heftiest broccoli to ever have been produced and harvested came from the land of giant vegetables - Alaska? John and his wife Mary Evans earned the Guinness World Record in 1993 for the heaviest broccoli that weighed at almost 35 pounds!
Who wouldn’t be motivated to grow their own broccoli after reading that? With 13 vitamins and 8 minerals for every 100 grams of the green stuff, it beats buying different bottles of expensive supplements anytime. It won’t replace a doctor’s prescription but you’ll still save money and be healthier if you plant these amazing greens.
Broccoli is naturally grown in the eastern Mediterranean and south-western part of Asia and was introduced in Italy in the ancient Roman period. However, it was only around the 1700s that England and America came to appreciate the goodness of this cabbage relative.
Broccoli flourishes in autumn because temperature fluctuations in spring cause some unpredictable outcomes. A lengthy chill in spring might induce premature heads that are too little. On the other hand, warm springs cause the vegetable to become, pardon the pun, bitter and may flower too early, rendering the heads useless.
It’s all about perfect timing. To save you the trouble, you can just buy vegetable hybrids of this sort from your local horticulture supplier. They are the best persons to ask about varieties that would suit seasonal conditions in your area.
When estimating the size of your vegetable garden, it’s always good to know how big these plants can grow, especially if you are planning to add companion plants to your plot. There are differences when it comes to the kind of broccoli you want to plant but normally, these cabbage members can grow up to 24 to 35 inches in height.
However, flowers, expanding leaves and additional shoots that grow huge and heavy heads can add up inches to the space. So, try to add a bit of extra room for each plant in your plot.
The leaf shapes of broccoli are commonly long and irregularly shaped. Some look like they have wavy or really curly lace edges and are either wide or narrow. They vary from pale green to deep blue green or sometimes tinged with violet. These are anchored to the plant by hard stems that further thicken at the base. The leaf count may reach around 15 to 25 for each plant which makes sense as they need a lot of them to manufacture food to produce those heads.
Color & Size
The broccoli heads span a wide spectrum of the green hue: some are light or dark green while others are almost teal. If you buy the usual bagged frozen broccoli, you might be surprised to know they also come in chartreuse, cream, or purple. You can experiment with your food presentations to make them more interesting, tasty and, combined with other ingredients, more colorful.
The outcome of head sizes depends on many factors: the broccoli type, soil health, climate conditions and cultivation. They can bloom 6 inches in diameter or more. They can weigh up to a pound or more while the branched ones are slightly lighter. The head shapes also differ as some are looser while others are almost perfectly rounded. The Romanesco’s head shape is odd with its alien-like bumps. Rest assured it is edible and has a mild, sweet and nutty taste.
Many plant growers have come up with so many kinds over the years, but there are three common breeds favored by most gardeners, namely Calabrese broccoli, Purple broccoli and Romanesco broccoli.
This variety grows swiftly and is very easy to cultivate. It is also known in some parts as the American, Italian or even sprouting broccoli. It can reach up to 24 inches in height while the head’s circumference can grow up to 6 inches in diameter. The broccoli head has a darker green hue that is almost bluish-green in color. Some breeds under this type are the following:
They do not produce heads, but rather have small florets that look like loose, tiny leaves on slim stalks. They resemble and taste somewhat like slightly sweet asparagus.
This one produces big, dense broccoli heads and thrives in summer temperatures and result in good harvests. They actually branch out to produce heads that are lovely to look at.
If you’re looking at growing a small vegetable plot, this is ideal for you. It’s advisable to cut the heads when they are still developing if you want to encourage the plants to grow shoots along its sides.
Purple Cauliflower Broccoli
This vegetable option is also known as Purple Sprouting Broccoli, and is able to withstand below freezing temperatures of up to -12 degrees Celsius. Can you imagine that? Although it is a tough broccoli variety, it might be suitable for very patient vegetable growers.
It takes six months - you heard that right! Six months for this to grow into the distinct purple florets they’re known for. Mind you, this isn’t always the case for other purple varieties but these vegetables do need a certain length of cooling time called "vernalization” to effloresce. Don’t get discouraged about this. In fact, it is exactly this quality that makes this variety interesting. It gives you something to look forward to during the cold months and you get to watch every step of its development.
It will be worthwhile when you finally see it blooming with dark, multiple flowers. Below are beautiful purple types to choose from.
These are very slow to grow and produce smaller branched out clusters of heads that are purple in color. Once you cook them, you’ll be amazed as they turn green! Since this is a cool-hardy variety, you need to make sure they’re planted late fall or during winter with temperatures at or below 10 degrees Celsius. Otherwise, you’ll end up with the unpalatable sharp bitter taste of greens. A thumbs down during family dinner for sure.
Broccoli Red Fire
Contrary to its name, it’s still deep purple and produces abundant medium to large cluster heads that even look ornamental. It’s an upraised plant that can be sown between May to July.
It completes its development by late January to middle of March. Once you see the heads form, cut them at the center to encourage more shoots to sprout that are ready for harvesting in about four to six weeks. They are resilient to frost and prefer temperatures at 10 degrees Celsius.
These are tall, winter-hardy plants that produce deep violet flower buds and slim stalks with just a few leaves. You won’t have trouble harvesting because of its more accessible height. You’ll get abundant lateral shoots if you cut off branches of the main broccoli head and the stems around as soon as they form.
The best part is, the more frequent you harvest, the more it produces head spears. You’re guaranteed a steady supply of home grown and free vegetables during cold times when the prices are steep.
This spiky, yellow-green broccoli is sometimes called Romanesque cauliflower or Cavolo broccolo romanesco to Italians, and its origins date back to 16th century Italy.
Although it’s commonly mistaken as a mix of broccoli and cauliflower, it is not. It has an almost perfect spiral shape that closely resembles that of some seashells and has a light flavor, but with loads of nutrients that you can benefit from. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of compliments over this one as soon as it starts blooming. It’s also a great way to showcase your kitchen skills because although this can be eaten raw, it requires just the right amount of heat to maintain its firmness and shape if cooked.
The Romanesco is slower to develop at approximately three months, but you can expect a single head harvest to weigh up to more than 2 kilos. To avoid small heads from forming, it’s best to cover these when temperature sinks beyond 10 degrees Celsius at nighttime. Check out this pretty hybrid:
Veronica F1 Romanesco
This type will mature in 77 days and can grow heads at 6 or more inches. In cool temperatures, they will be vibrant yellow-green and turn a gorgeous cream color with pink tips in warmer weather. Though this type is mildly resistant to Fusarium Yellows, a type of fungus infestation, you should still be on the lookout for yellowing leaves that keep falling off to preserve the plant health.
Although this is technically not a hybrid, Romanesco broccoli does turn purple in arid and very warm weather. This is actually good for you! The harmless purple pigment is called anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant which is a byproduct of the plant’s reaction to such harsh conditions.
If you don't mind the bitter taste, go ahead and grow them that way. Otherwise, you can simply protect the heads from sun exposure by using dark plastic shields or rearranging the leaves to cover them to maintain that vibrant chartreuse color and the mild, sweet taste.
How to Grow Broccoli
Just like any plant, certain requirements must be met to get the most out of your broccoli vegetables. Here are some pointers to remember:
These plants prefer a soil that is slightly on the acidic side, with the average Ph level at 6.4. Just like humans, plants need essential minerals to grow well. Boron is a substance that makes sure the plant stems don’t grow to have hollow spaces.
To avoid soil deficiencies, of course, you must make sure the soil is nutrient-rich and slightly damp by adding organic compost and regularly watering the plants in an area with proper drainage. If you want to be more accurate, you can buy soil testing kits or have a specialist come over to conduct experiments to make sure your soil is well-balanced.
Broccoli plants are mostly cool hardy plants but you need to make sure the plot that you’ll use for these produce will have direct access to the sun’s rays in order for them to thrive. You can maximize their growth by making sure to expose them to 6 hours of sunlight every day.
Along with mulch and animal fertilizer, water helps maintain the cool conditions that this plant prefers. To avoid overdoing it, test the soil using your hand to see if it is damp enough. You’ll see loose clumps form easily when it has enough moisture.
Although some variants of broccoli can grow in warm temperatures, most of them still prefer direct sunlight in conjunction with cool temperatures with an average of 20.5 degrees Celsius. Temperature plays a huge factor when it comes to producing quality broccoli heads that are fit for consumption.
With just the right amount of cold, you can grow broccoli that, once mature, will provide the sweet-tasting version that is more favorable. Generally, if the heads bloom in extreme summer temperatures, they easily detach. You might risk ending up with smaller flower buds that taste bland and bitter.
This green veggie is a bit of a greedy feeder and requires a thick spread of compost or manure to create viable broccoli heads. You can use food scraps and discarded leaves to create your own special mixture. It’s easy, planet-friendly and free!
For premixed fertilizer, you can buy from garden centers. If you don’t have the time to make your mulch, this is more practical. Since you can buy it in bulk, you’ll have a steady supply throughout the plant’s growing process.
There are three ways to trim your broccoli plants to get the most out of them. The first technique is to pinch off the growing central head’s bud once it appears. This will coax the plant to branch out and create bigger shoots.
The second method would be to trim the shoots that develop around the central head. Not only will it form a large main head, but surrounding heads will also grow bigger.
The last approach would be to allow the major curd to mature. Once it does, you can harvest it and let the neighboring shoots produce heads. Continuous harvesting with this procedure will last for up to 90 days until they flower come springtime.
Before harvesting, pick a few of the best broccoli plants you have among the bunch to flower so you can eventually collect good quality seeds that you can use for yourself. Ideally, you don’t want them tainted with the pollen of cabbage family members, which could reduce the quality of your seeds.
You might want to use screens to keep off pollinators if you want to be more precise about the method. Once pods form, wait until they are completely dry to gather the seeds inside. Crush thoroughly dried pods to collect. The seed colors may range from light orange, reddish brown to gray. Place them in a tightly sealed container away from moisture and heat and they’re good to last for five years.
Health Benefits of Broccoli
Many studies have been conducted about this vegetable’s power to maintain good health. Whichever way you prepare it, it will have favorable long term effects on your body.
This cruciferous veggie keeps our tickers in tiptop shape. It contains so many nutritive compounds such as Kaempferol and Quercetin that fight inflammation and lowers your blood pressure, therefore minimizing your heart stress in the process.
Did you know eating broccoli is as good as drinking a glass of milk? It contains a high amount of calcium and the chemical compound Vitamin K. They are needed to maintain bone and blood health. Your grandparents with their achy joints, growing children, or nursing moms in your family will thank you for feeding them this super vegetable. If you have dairy sensitivities, you can still take care of your bones by eating this on a regular basis.
Young or old, it’s never too late to take care of our eyes, especially nowadays when we’re stuck on our gadgets for most of the time. Did you know that the Vitamin A in broccoli helps reverse night blindness?
Its plant pigments such as lutein and zeaxanthin also protect our peepers from degeneration.
It’s a scary fact that cancer can strike even the seemingly fit, but the good news is you can increase your fighting chances against this disease.
Coupled with a healthy lifestyle, you might reduce your chances of getting cancer by eating these veggies. Just to show you how powerful this plant is, it’s known to protect against the following types of cancer: prostate, lung, colon, breast, mouth, esophagus, stomach, and so many more.
It’s an awful feeling when you can’t pass stools with ease. Most of us have experienced it.
After a series of antibiotics weakened my tummy, I relied on a diet filled with nutritious fiber, including broccoli. It aids in proper digestion and might help in maintaining your gut balance.
Who doesn’t want younger looking skin? Another broccoli pigment, Beta-carotene is transformed by your body into Vitamin A that will improve your skin health and may even stop skin cancer from developing. You’ll never have to worry about getting those wrinkles if you incorporate this into your diet.
Uses of Broccoli
Did you know that the average person in the US eats almost 6 pounds of the green stuff per year? Many people are gradually coming to terms about its health benefits, and with more people like you getting interested in growing their own, it’s only going to increase in the coming years.
You won’t have trouble preparing it as it’s so easy to prepare as a meal. Eaten raw or cooked, it goes well with any meat, other vegetables, grains, oils and spices.
Broccoli might be a good alternative to traditional medicine in preventing or reducing symptoms of various cancers and ailments. You can make medicine out of the parts of this vegetable. Drinking juiced broccoli might help reduce the bad cholesterol in your blood.
If you’re suffering from pain caused by fibromyalgia, you might want to explore how broccoli’s chemical compound ascorbigen can treat it. Just eating it as is can improve your overall health and protect you from cancer causing free radicals and inflammation.
Using vegetables as ornamental plants is gaining popularity nowadays. Some varieties like the Purple Broccoli and Romanesco provide a garden landscape with bright purple colors and interesting florets that will be much appreciated in cool or wintry days. You could try growing winter flowering plants that are compatible with broccoli. The shot of green among the colorful flowers gives the impression of spring or summer in freezing temperatures.
According to Scientific American, broccoli has a reasonably acceptable environmental footprint. An environmental footprint simply means the effect of any living or non-living thing on the environment. Since broccoli prefers damp soil, it has a pretty low water footprint because it only takes 285 liters of water to grow a kilogram of it. Industry-wise, it also has a small carbon footprint compared to other vegetables. And if you’re growing them, it’s zero.
Growing broccoli is so doable it’s going to be one of the best decisions you can make right now. It takes patience, but the rewards are plenty. This surprisingly sustainable Brassica is economical, safe and beneficial to the environment and most importantly, your health.
Frequently Asked Questions
What parts of Broccoli can be eaten?
The head, leaves and the peeled stem are edible parts. Try to discover delicious recipes to keep meals not just healthy but interesting.
Can you grow broccoli in hot weather?
Absolutely. They need plenty of compost to cool the roots, water to keep the soil moist enough and sun covers to minimize heat stress. Heat tolerant hybrids are preferable for easy maintenance. Make sure to follow the seed packet instructions before starting.
Can you grow broccoli using scraps of stems?
Yes. Using a small jar, propagate broccoli stalks by dipping the ends in plain water. Place them in a sunny area and once tiny roots and leaves emerge, they’re ready to be transferred to soil where they can grow domes after several weeks of tending.