Broccoli is one of those vegetables we take for granted in the supermarket, but growing Broccoli is surprisingly easy to do for yourself. It is a cool-season crop, so it is grown in the spring and fall. Summer Broccoli probably comes from the southern hemisphere growing areas.
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The ideal planting temperature for growing Broccoli is 65-80 degrees. If it is too cold or too hot, the Broccoli will bloom prematurely, resulting in small heads. Because spring temperatures can be so variable, fall planting of Broccoli produces bigger and tastier heads.
For spring planting, start your seeds indoors under a grow light in late December, then transplant outdoors in mid to late January. Plant ‘Green Goliath’ or ‘Green Duke’ varieties in spring, as they can handle heat better than other varieties.
For fall planting, start seeds outdoors in late September/early October, 85-100 days before average first frost (Dec.1 on Zone 9).
Broccoli needs cool weather, at least 6 hours of full sun, regular water, and soil rich in organic materials. Soil must be slightly acidic, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. You can test your soil yourself with a multipurpose soil meter.
Plant your seeds/transplants about 18 inches apart-that may seem to be a really large spacing, but the mature plant will take up all this space. Mulch around the plants to keep the soil cool and moist.
Pest Control in the growing Broccoli:
The main insect pests include cabbage loopers and imported cabbageworms, cabbage root maggots, aphids, and flea beetles. Be sure to check your garden plants often for signs of insect damage, stress from over-or under-watering and bacterial or fungus diseases.
You can control pests by handpicking when the caterpillars are visible, beneficial nematodes to attack the underground pests, companion plants to attract good bugs or repel pests and insect predators that eat the worms and larvae.
Harvest when the head is about 4-7″ in size, and the florets are pin-head size, dark green and tightly together. Harvest in the cool of the morning for the best shelf life. If the head begins to turn yellow, it is too ripe, and should be harvested immediately. A Broccoli head is actually a bunch of flower bulbs, and the yellow color is the miniature flowers opening.
After you cut the Broccoli head, leave the plant in the ground. It will produce more, but smaller heads.
If you plant in the fall, and a freeze is forecast, harvest the broccoli before the freeze. Broccoli will tolerate temperatures to 28 degrees. You can cover the plants with store-bought or homemade row covers to raise temperatures during the freeze.
Following these tips to grow Broccoli will give you a harvest in the spring as well as the fall, and one that tastes better than a supermarket head!