How to grow and care for broccoli
Varieties of broccoli
Brassica oleracea Purple Sprouting Broccoli: This is one of the most popular varieties of broccoli to grow, due to its hardiness and exceptional flavour.
Brassica oleracea Tenderstem Broccoli: This fast-growing variety only takes around 5 weeks to mature and is not grown for its flowerheads, but for the tender stems that taste delicious in stir-fries or pasta dishes.
Where to grow broccoli
Germinate your broccoli seeds inside or under cloches to give them a good start. If you live in the south, you should be able to start sowing your seeds under cloches from April onwards. If you live in the north it is best to wait until May. Your seeds should start to germinate in around 7-10 days. Keep your broccoli seedlings under cloches until the last frosts have passed.
Preparing your plot and required equipment
Create a nutrient-rich bed: If you have not already created a compost trench, dig in some compost and well-rotted manure to provide your broccoli with a nutrient-rich bed.
Prevent club root: Like all brassicas, broccoli is susceptible to club root so it is recommended to choose clubroot resistant seeds or buy ready-grown seedlings from your local garden centre.
Use a DIY pH testing kit to check the pH levels of your soil. To prevent club root, plant your brassicas in soil with a pH level of 7.1 or above. If you find that your soil is more acidic than this, you can add lime to help raise the pH level.
Harden off indoor seedlings: Once indoor seedlings reach around 3 inches tall, they will need hardening off before being transported to their final positions. Do this by placing their pots outside during the day and bringing them back indoors at night. If you have a cold frame, leave the lid open during the day and close it at night. Open the lid a bit more each day. After around a month of hardening off, you should be able to transfer your young seedlings to the vegetable bed.
Sowing outdoors: Sow your seeds in rows, around 6 inches apart and then remove the weaker seedlings. Your plants should ideally be 9-12 inches apart. This will allow you to dig in between them and remove weeds without damaging your plants.
Protect from butterflies: As soon as your seedlings reach 2-3 inches tall, cover them with fleece or fine mesh. They will need to stay covered right up until you harvest them. If butterflies lay their eggs on your plant, the caterpillars that hatch will savage your plants and you will have little left to harvest. Even with the mesh or fleece, you will need to check for caterpillars hiding on the underside of the leaves.
Care and growing tips
- To give your broccoli plants the best possible start, germinate them in a propagator and then harden them off in a cold frame.
- If the leaves of your broccoli plants are drooping, it is a sign that it either has club root or is dehydrated.
- Water your broccoli plants twice every week during dry spells.
When to harvest broccoli
Home-grown varieties are likely to be much smaller than the broccoli you buy in the supermarket. You will need to make sure that you harvest your broccoli as soon as the head starts to spread out, no matter how small it is. The flower buds should still be tight and green. They should not have started to produce yellow flowers.
How to store broccoli
Fridge: Home-grown broccoli does not store well once harvested. The best option is to alternate sowing your seeds, so you only need to harvest what you are going to eat. Broccoli will start to turn rubbery after just a few days in the salad drawer of your fridge. If you do have any older or frozen broccoli, this can be used to make soups or sauces.
When to sow broccoli seeds
Available online and in centre.