Growing broccoli for the first time can be surprising because this vegetable demands just the right conditions to grow perfectly: extended cool weather in spring and fall (or during winter months in mild areas). Instead of gigantic supermarket-size heads, the home gardener will likely get smaller ones—but they’ll also be very tender. The edible part of the plant is actually a cluster of flower buds. Most varieties produce one large head 50 to 55 days after transplanting into the garden. If you leave the plant in place, smaller secondary buds will develop on side shoots. Other cool-season vegetables from the same species (Brassica oleracea) include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi.
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Garden Plans For Broccoli
Broccoli Care Must-Knows
Broccoli thrives in cool weather, bright sunlight, and well-drained soil. Choose a planting site (garden, raised bed, or large container) that receives at least 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Transplant nursery-grown broccoli into the garden after the last spring frost. For soil that's lean on nutrients, incorporate well-decomposed compost prior to planting. Broccoli also can be grown from seed planted indoors 4 to 5 weeks before the last expected spring frost. To start broccoli from seed, sow them 1 inch apart in a container of seed-starting mix. Cover the seeds with ½ inch of fine soil and keep the seedbed evenly moist. Provide a bright light source during the time seeds grow indoors. When seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall, transplant them into rich, well-drained garden soil 18 inches apart in rows that are 24 inches apart. Water seedlings well to encourage a strong root system.
Continue to water plants as needed to maintain moist soil. Weed the area frequently to eliminate competition for nutrients and moisture. Repel caterpillars with a biological pesticide such as nontoxic Bacillus thuringiensis or hand-pick the pests and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
Broccoli is ready for harvest when the head is tight and firm. Harvest before any buds open to reveal yellow flowers, which indicate the broccoli is past its peak (although still edible). Cut the stems at an angle to reduce the likelihood they will rot. Continue harvesting smaller side shoots as they develop.
More Varieties of Broccoli
A good disease-resistant variety for areas with foggy or wet conditions. Its tightly packed main head sheds water well and helps prevent rot. 69 days.
An Italian heirloom variety that bears a small main head, but produces a steady supply of side shoots all season long. 70 days.
Produces an 8-inch-diameter main head good for freezing. 55 days.
Forms a head in just 52 days and withstands heat better than most broccoli varieties, which makes it well adapted to the South and warm-summer regions.
Grows only 1 foot tall and is a good choice for containers or small-space vegetable gardens. 55 days.