Thought to be a Mediterranean native. Among cole crops (cabbage and its other close relatives), broccoli is arguably the best all-around choice for the home gardener: it bears over a long season and is not difficult to raise. Grows 2–3 ft. tall, with a branching habit. Sends up a central stalk that bears a cluster (to 6 in. wide) of green or purple flower buds. When that central cluster is removed, side branches will lengthen and produce smaller clusters.
There are many excellent varieties to choose from. Sprouting broccoli forms many small florets that are harvested when the size of buttons. Broccoli raab (broccoli rabe), an Italian relative of broccoli, has slightly stronger flavor. ‘Romanesco’ broccoli produces light green heads that resemble sea coral and have the flavor and texture of cauliflower. For Chinese broccoli, see Asian Greens.
All types of broccoli are cool-season plants that tend to bolt into flower at high temperatures, so plant them to mature during cool weather. In mild climates, plant in late summer, fall, or winter for crops in winter or early spring. In cold-winter areas, set out young plants 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost (young plants resist frost but not hard freezes).
A good guide to planting time parallels the availability of broccoli seedlings in nurseries. They are ready to be planted in 4 to 6 weeks from sowing. One pack of seed will produce too many plants for even the largest home garden, so save surplus seed for later plantings. A dozen plants will supply a family.
Space plants 1 1/2–2 ft. apart in rows and leave 3 ft. between rows. Keep plants growing vigorously with regular deep irrigation during dry periods and one or two feedings of commercial fertilizer before heads start to form.
To prevent soil-borne pest buildup, plant in a different site each year. Row covers will protect plants from some pests such as aphids, cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms, and root maggots. Alternatively, prevent root maggots by ringing base of plant with a tar-paper collar; or cover with a cone fashioned from window screen. Collars made from paper cups or metal cans (with ends removed) also deter cutworms, which chew seedlings off at the base. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) can be applied to control young larvae of cabbageworms and loopers on plants.
Harvest 50 to 100 days after setting out plants. Cut heads before clustered buds begin to open. Include 5–6 in. of edible stalk and leaves. Subject to same pests as cabbage.
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