Gardening has become an accessible hobby that most amateurs can pursue regardless of yard space. Because of this, more and more people are choosing to grow their own food in this sustainable way. Among the most popular vegetables to grow is broccoli, a hardy and nutritious plant related to cabbage and brussels sprouts. Growing broccoli from seed can be done successfully when you use the right tools, put in hard work, and arm yourself with a gardener's step-by-step guide.
Broccoli usually likes cold weather and can be planted early in the year to harvest in the spring or later summer months for a fall harvest. Different varieties have a different maturity rate, so be sure to use a variety that will mature when temperatures are still cool and to the plant’s liking. Research your zone to learn more about the best planting time for your area.
Broccoli seeds can be started indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area. Many experts recommend using a seed starter soil mix instead of garden or potting soil. Seeds should be placed ¼ of an inch to ½ an inch below the surface of the soil and typically germinate in a week and a half or less. Seedlings need light, or else they will become too long and spindly to stand alone and grow. If sunlight is insufficient, which it often is indoors, use CFL bulbs, LED bulbs, or grow lights placed directly above the young seedlings. A light breeze will help strengthen their stems. Peat pots and other decomposable pots can make transplanting easier.
Your seedlings should have a couple of sets of true leaves before you transplant them outdoors. True leaves are leaves that emerge after the initial seedling set. They’ll need well-drained soil and full sunlight to survive. If you’ve planted your seedlings in decomposable pots, remove the bottoms and place them gently in your garden 18 to 24 inches apart, in rows that are two to three feet apart. Transplanted seedlings take about two to three months to mature, so about three to four months in total when grown from seed.
When planting broccoli outside, start sowing your seeds as soon as the soil can be shoveled and tilled, two to three weeks before the last frost, or sometime in between. Broccoli likes a soil pH of 6 to 7, so consider having your soil’s acidity and components tested. This will also help you choose a fertilizer. You can plant seeds and transplants at the same time for a succession of crops, as long as the temperature will allow.
Fertilizer and compost will enrich your garden’s soil and help your broccoli plants thrive. If your soil has too low a pH, consider adding an acidic compound like sphagnum peat moss or sulfur. If it is too alkaline, a substance like ground garden limestone can rectify this problem. If you've planted your seeds or seedlings early, be sure to be on guard of a dangerous frost or heavy snowfall. Covering delicate crops can protect them from frost damage and prevent pests like aphids from harming the growing plants.
Bolting can be a problem once broccoli begins to grow and their climate becomes too warm. Bolting occurs when the plants grow tall and flower without ever growing the short, stout broccoli stems we all eat. The problem begins when the roots are too warm, usually because of summer weather. To keep your plant’s roots cool and prevent bolting, consider mulching your plant’s roots with an option safe for edible crops. Frequent watering can also prevent roots from heating up. Of course, harvesting your plants when they’re ready will also help you avoid losing a crop to bolting or flowering.
Broccoli thrives when watered regularly. These vegetables like to receive about an inch to an inch-and-a-half of water every week. Water the roots but not the heads to prevent the tops from rotting. Since the roots don’t grow very deep, try not to disturb them when watering or weeding.
Broccoli likes to be fed regularly, preferably every few weeks. A few weeks after you plant your broccoli outdoors, fertilize it with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Soil can be fertilized before planting to allow vital nutrients, such as potassium, to sink into the soil. Testing the nutrient composition of your soil will tell you which areas are lacking and what to add for fertilizer. Natural substances like wood ash and vegetable scraps also enrich the soil. Using these in homemade compost can give you a balanced, homemade fertilizer to use in a few months’ time.
You’ll know you’ve achieved delicious success once your stout broccoli heads look full and are a bluish-purple color. Before the yellow flowers have a chance to bloom, you’ll need to harvest your vegetables for storing or eating. Harvest in the morning and cut at least six inches of the stem at a slanted angle. Your stem may grow smaller broccoli heads after this first cutting. If you see small flowers starting to appear, it’s not too late! Just cut your broccoli heads immediately to keep them fresh.
If your broccoli crops have a large yield or you don’t plan on eating it within a few days of harvesting, storing it for the long-term may be your best bet. To freeze and store broccoli, you’ll need to blanch it to preserve the texture. Simply boil the stalks and heads in hot water for two to three minutes and transfer quickly to a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking process. After letting the vegetables dry on a towel or napkin, they can be frozen or enjoyment down the line.