Growing the Stuff: Broccoli

A family of Italian immigrants arriving in the US, c. 1905. Photograph: Lewis Wickes Hine/ Bettmann/CORBIS

A family of Italian immigrant farmers, c. 1910.

Did you know?

Broccoli is the result of careful breeding of cultivated leafy cole crops in the Northern Mediterranean in about the 6th century BC.  It was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants.  For that, I say, Ben Fatto! to my ancestors.

Growing the Stuff.

I have found Broccoli an easy vegetable to grow.   However, I’ve heard from friends that their plants will grow but the florets won’t develop.  There are two things to consider:  (1) the broccoli just isn’t ready yet – it can take a long, long, time for broccoli to mature – up to 3 months (maybe more); and (2) perhaps too much nitrogen or a calcium deficiency is to blame.  Make sure to test your pH before planting.  You’ll want your soil a bit acidic.

The beginning of the Floret

The beginning of the Floret

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac:

  • Broccoli can germinate in soil with temperatures as low as 40º F.
  • Broccoli requires full “sun” (full daylight – no shade) and moist, fertile soil. Work in 2 to 4 inches of rich compost or a thin layer of manure before planting.
  • For spring plantings, seed or set transplants 2 to 3 weeks before last spring frost date. If you transplant, assume 10 less days for growth or the “days to maturity” on the seed packet.
  • For fall plantings, seed 85 to 100 days before your average first fall frost. If you live in a warm climate, a fall planting is best, as broccoli thrives in cool weather. Plant seeds in mid- to late-summer in most places [DWG Note: I plant broccoli starts rather than seeds so I push the planting to a later date].
  • Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep, or set transplants slightly deeper than they were grown originally.
  •  If you overseed, you will need to thin seedlings to 12 inches apart to give room for the broccoli to grow.
  •  Within a row, space your plants 12 to 24 inches apart with 36 inches between each row.
  •  Space plants 12 to 24 inches apart, depending on the side heads you want to harvest.
  • Fertilize three weeks after transplanting.
  • Provide consistent soil moisture with regular watering, especially in drought conditions (not such an issue in the fall/winter months). Some varieties of broccoli are heat tolerant, but all need moisture.
  • Do not get developing heads wet when watering.
  •  Roots are very shallow, do not cultivate. Suffocate weeds with mulch.
  • Mulch will also help to keep soil temperatures down.

Next up.  The Harvest. . .