I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love broccoli! Whether it’s fresh, sauteed, or included in soups, rice dishes, pasta, stir fry, or as a side dish, broccoli is a vegetable filled with nutrients and great taste. If you enjoy broccoli as a regular staple in your diet, there is nothing more satisfying than growing your own and bringing it directly from your garden to your table. In this article, we will explore the different broccoli growing stages.
This lovely green, known as brassica oleracea, is not that difficult to grow. Broccoli is known as a plant for the “cool season”, so planting it at the right time of the year is essential. If you plan on harvesting your broccoli in the summer, you’ll need to begin preparing your plants about six to eight weeks before the final frost of the season. Depending on where you live, you’ll want to consult a local almanac at a library or telephone your local farm bureau or association to get an idea of that date. While frost dates aren’t perfect, it’s the best indication for home gardeners to avoid clashing with Mother Nature.
After acquiring your broccoli seeds, sow them in about a half-inch deep of soil pellets or a seed-starting mix. If you have an enclosed porch, garage, or hothouse, and can maintain a temperature between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, your broccoli seed should germinate anywhere between four and seven days. If you prefer to harvest in the fall, broccoli seeds can be directly seeded into your garden in the middle of summer.
While waiting for your broccoli seeds to germinate, make sure you have lots of light. Should your seedlings develop stems that are long, repot them deeper into the soil up to the first leaves and make sure to increase light exposure.
You’ll want to “harden” your broccoli seedlings as well. Since your seeds will have been germinated in a controlled environment, the light will tend to be weaker than sunlight and there won’t be any wind or rain. Thus, your seedlings won’t really have developed any defense mechanisms. Hardening your seedlings is relatively easy and will help your vegetables grow stronger when they finally do make it to the garden.
Hardening is merely introducing your baby seedlings to the great outdoors gradually. The whole process usually will take a week to ten days. When the seedlings have grown large enough to plant, transfer them to a box that you can easily move around. Once the outside temperatures are appropriate, place your box of seedlings outside for several hours in a shaded area initially. Repeat this process each day gradually moving your box into the sunlight for a short time at first, until you can gradually leave the seedlings in direct sunlight for several hours. However, remember to bring your box of baby plants in at night. When you can finally leave the plants outside all day long, it will be safe to leave them out at night as well. At this point, you can plant the seedlings in your garden once your spring weather has arrived free of frost.
So now you are ready to plant your baby broccoli into your outdoor garden. When planting, space your broccoli anywhere from twelve to twenty-four inches apart. Depending on how large your garden is, giving your plants more space will encourage the plant heads to grow larger.
Broccoli likes soil that is slightly acidic with a pH level between six and seven. Ideally, grow your broccoli in a rich organic soil bed, and make sure to fertilize your young plants. The fertilizer should be balanced. If your fertilizer contains too much nitrogen, you’ll end up with too much leaf growth, while phosphorous and potassium help bloom growth.
Even though broccoli loves moist soil beds, it shouldn’t be soggy, so regular watering is important but keep an eye on moisture levels. The use of mulch can help control any undesired weeds and assist in the moisture levels. In order to inhibit any disease or pests, your broccoli should be planted in a part of the garden where no crops of the cabbage family have been planted for a minimum of four years.
If your area is subject to cold spells or you live in an area with a wildlife population such as deer or rabbits, a floating row cover might be an option to consider if you want to protect your new vegetables. Floating row covers are lightweight and can be bought or homemade. They are made of a material that is light and woven and that allows both water and sunlight to penetrate the cover. They do however provide enough protection for cold spells, and a row cover can help the soil temperature to increase from one to three degrees thanks to sunlight capture. It will also dissuade birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, and flying pests from harvesting and enjoying your broccoli before you do.
it’s time to enjoy the fruits or rather vegetables of your labor! The unopened broccoli flower is the edible part of the plant. You will want to harvest the center head when it is well developed but before the buds bloom into petite yellow flowers. How can you tell when your broccoli is ready to be harvested? If your broccoli shows a firm center head measuring anywhere from four to seven inches wide and the broccoli florets along the edge of the head are approximately the size of a match, get out a sharp knife and begin your harvest. Cut cleanly and swiftly about five inches below the head. if you manage to cut cleanly without sawing and leave the broccoli plant in the ground, you may be able to side harvest later on as side shoots may appear to the side of where the main broccoli head grew.
To maintain the quality of your freshly harvested broccoli heads, try to harvest in the cooler morning hours and place them immediately in the refrigerator. Do not wash unless you’re planning on eating right away. Broccoli heads that remain unwashed can last in a refrigerator for three to five days.
If you grow and harvest more broccoli than you can possibly eat, blanching is a great alternative and will allow you to freeze and maintain the quality of your broccoli for up to a year. Blanching is a cooking procedure in which you scald the vegetable in boiling water for a short period and then place it in ice water or under cold running water before freezing to preserve nutrients, appearance, and above all the flavor of your homegrown harvest. Hopefully you learned something about the broccoli plant growing stages!