Broccoli just could be the perfect vegetable. It is high in vitamin A, easy to grow, and as tasty after freezing as it is fresh. The list of attributes is longer, it is tolerant of cold weather. Broccoli can be grown in partial shade; head, and the stems and leaves all edible. The best of all is that once it is harvested it continues to produce.
This native to the Mediterranean region also is a great plant to get children interested in gardening.
To raise broccoli, buy transplants locally, or produce your own and set out in early spring or late summer. Transplants can be produced along with transplants of cabbage and cauliflower, taking about four weeks from seeding to setting in the garden. Plant your broccoli in a sunny, well-prepared bed 8 to 12 inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Broccoli has a relatively shallow, fibrous root system, so cultivate carefully. Mulching is even better.
Broccoli heads are really flower buds; they must be harvested before the flowers open or show yellow. Mature heads measure 6 to 8 inches across, while lateral-heads that develop later are smaller. Broccoli is a heavy feeder. Use a liquid water soluble fertilizer when transplanting, then side-dress three weeks later, with a slow release fertilizer containing micro nutrients. Last feed again as the flower buds are beginning to form.
Your local extension office can give you variety recommendations for your area. Some gardeners believe fall broccoli has a better quality than spring broccoli because it matures as the weather is getting cooler rather than warmer.
The No. 1 pest of broccoli is the same as for cauliflower and cabbage the cabbage looper or worm. They are pale green measuring type worms with light stripes down their backs. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green. They make ragged holes on the undersides of leaves and bore into the heads of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
If your plants get them in quantities more than you can remove by hand, one of the safest organic insecticides on the market, Bacillus thuringiensis, will take care of the loopers and can be applied as close as the day of harvest. There are several brands and formulations available so follow the label precisely.
Depending on variety and the season, broccoli should be ready for harvest 60 to 80 days after transplanting. Harvest while the flower buds are tight. Pay attention to where you are harvesting or you might damage the secondary buds below the main head.
As you gather around the table during the holiday season and partake in a variety of broccoli dishes, let it be a reminder you are just a few short months away of being able to grow your own.