Broccoli is scientifically named as Brassica oleracea italica. The flower heads are edible and rich in nutrients. Therefore, you will get many health benefits from this vegetable.
And to get these benefits readily, you can plant it in your home garden. One of the tips to grow broccoli successfully is by understanding more about this plant.
If you have this understanding, you will be able to grow and care for this plant properly. Therefore, before you begin the process of planting broccoli, you have to know everything about this plant.
1. Origin and History of Broccoli
This particular vegetable is indigenous to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. It was believed that it was the Etruscans who cultivated this vegetable for the first time.
It is predicted that the cultivation was done since 600 BC. Moreover, this vegetable is one of the main diets of people in the Roman Empire. They ate it raw or cooked.
The word broccoli was derived from ‘broccoli,’ an Italian word. This word means “a cabbage’s flowering crest.’ In the 18th century, this vegetable was introduced to England.
Later on, it was brought to North America. But, it was not popular at first. It became more popular after 1920. Today, broccoli is widely cultivated and consumed all over the world.
2. Plant Description
This superfood is one of the cultivars of Brassica oleracea. It is closely related to cauliflower which is also a cultivar of this species.
However, they have a different appearance. Broccoli is dark green, while cauliflower is white. But, they have similar shapes, i.e. like a tree.
Broccoli is an annual plant. It grows between 60 cm and 90 cm tall. The stem of this plant is green and thick. On this stem, you will find bluish-green leaves.
This particular plant is a fast-growing plant. It takes between 60 days and 150 days to produce a flower head that is ready to harvest.
This flower head is formed by small flower buds that grow in dense clusters. These flower buds will bloom into small yellow flowers when the flower head is not harvested.
These flowers are not self-fertile. They require other matching flowers to pollinate. This cross-pollination cannot occur without the help of pollinators, especially honey bees.
After it is pollinated, the plant will bear fruits. These fruits are in the form of dry capsules. Inside these fruits, you will find broccoli seeds.
With these seeds, you can perform the steps of planting broccoli next year without the need to purchase them. Broccoli seeds can be stored up to 3 years.
3. The Best Growing Condition for Broccoli
If you want to have a nice harvest of broccoli, you need to grow this plant in the right environment. As a result, you need to prepare it.
Temperature and Hardiness Zone
This vegetable is a cool-season plant. It grows well in cool temperature, between 16o C and 18o C. Therefore, you need to plant this vegetable at the right time.
As a result, it grows in cool temperatures during its growing season. Broccoli can be planted in hardiness zones 3 to 10. With the right timing, this plant will thrive in those zones.
The best time to plant broccoli depends on the region you live in. If you live in a warmer region, the best time to grow is in the fall.
You need to start planting it about 100 days before the winter comes. If you live in a cooler region, the right time to plant it is in early spring or 3 weeks before the last spring frost.
This vegetable plant maybe a cool-season plant. However, it requires full sun to grow well. It must get at least 5 hours of sun. Getting enough sun will help this plant produce a large flower head.
This fast-growing plant must be planted in rich sandy soil. Therefore, it is important to fertilize the soil during the process of planting broccoli. You need to enrich your soil with organic fertilizer, such as compost, beforehand.
Moreover, you also need to fertilize the soil three weeks after transplanting broccoli seedlings. At this stage, you must use low nitrogen fertilizer. This kind of fertilizer will boost the development of the edible flower head.
Also, the soil must have the right pH level for the broccoli to grow well. The soil must be slightly acidic, with pH levels between 6 and 7. To make sure that your soil has the right acidity level, you can perform a soil test in advance.
Broccoli requires regular watering to keep the soil moist. However, you need to make sure that the soil doesn’t get soggy.
To prevent it you need to make sure that the soil has good drainage. To have better drainage, you can create a raised bed.
3. Broccoli Varieties
There are many broccoli varieties that you can grow. However, not all of them may be suitable for you. It is because they don’t have exactly similar characteristics.
Here are some varieties of broccoli to grow.
This variety of broccoli has excellent tolerance to heat. Therefore, it is perfect for you who live in a warmer area.
It is also perfect for you who never plant broccoli before since it has minimum bolting risk. This plant is suitable for USDA hardiness zone 7 to 11.
The flower head of this species is small to medium-size. It is green with a touch of purple. Moreover, this plant takes about 70 days or 75 days to produce a flower head that is ready to harvest.
This type of broccoli is an old Italian variety. It grows well in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 10. Its flower head is large and dark green.
This plant usually will produce it in about 65 days after transplant. Once you harvested the head, this vegetable plant will produce lots of side shoots. These smaller flower heads will prolong your harvest.
This variety of broccoli was created for cooler regions, such as Canada and the northern U.S. It is also heat tolerant.
Therefore, it won’t go bolting when the temperature slightly rise. The flower head of this variety is very large. It is bluish-green and has excellent flavor. Eastern magic needs 65 days to mature.
This heat-tolerant broccoli is perfect for you who live in warmer regions. The size of the plant is not too big.
Therefore, you can plant it in a small garden. It takes about 65 days for the flower head to be ready to harvest.
After the harvest, this plant will grow side shoots. The best time to plant it is in the spring and fall. If you live in the southern U.S, you can even plant it in winter.
This particular broccoli variety has eye-catching purple flower heads. Moreover, this plant doesn’t produce a single large flower head.
It produces several small florets in one plant. Moreover, this broccoli is very cool hardy. This plant can even tolerate -12o C. It is suitable for USDA hardiness zone 2 to 11.
This plant can grow pretty tall, about 1.5 m. Its flower heads taste delicious. However, it is considered as long growing broccoli.
It takes about 220 days to harvest the flower head. Therefore, you need to be patient with this plant. Also, the colors of the head flowers will turn to green when it is cooked.
This variety has a very unique flower head. Its spiral florets create a sea coral look. The color of this flower head is light green. Moreover, its flavor is also tasty. Some people describe the flavor as nutty.
Romanesco takes between 75 days to 100 days to be ready to harvest. This plant is suitable for USDA hardiness zones 3 to 10. However, it is not heat-tolerant. Just a slight increase in the temperature will cause it to bolt.
To avoid bolting, sow the seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the last spring frost. The in-room temperature of 25o C, they usually take 10 days to sprout.
After that, transplant the seedlings as soon as the early spring comes. As an alternative, you can sow the seeds in the fall.
How to Plant Broccoli from Seed
Growing this particular vegetable is pretty easy if you know the steps of growing broccoli. This vegetable is mostly planted from seeds.
However, you can also buy broccoli transplants from the nursery. But, they are usually available in limited choices of varieties. On the other hand, growing from seeds is more affordable and advantageous.
These are the steps of how of planting broccoli.
1. Site Preparation
The first step that you must do is preparing the site. Providing the right growing condition for your broccoli is essential.
It will help the plant to thrive in your garden. In doing this, first, you need to choose a sunny spot for the plant.
After that, you need to loosen the soil. Moreover, it is important to mix the soil with compost. Another thing you need to do is performing a soil test.
Therefore, you can do something to get your soil slightly acidic for the plant.
2. Sowing the Seeds
There are two ways of germinating broccoli seeds. You can sow them directly in the planting spot and germinating them indoors.
These two methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Sowing in the ground will free you from the transplanting process.
Meanwhile, sowing indoors will allow you to have a head start and avoid bolting.
If you choose the former, you need to make sure that the soil temperature is about 5o C. Then, plant the broccoli seeds about 1.5 cm deep.
It is important to plant them with 8 cm apart between plants and 90 cm apart between rows. Later, when the seedlings grow, you need to thin them so that the plants are about 120 cm apart from each other.
If you choose to germinate the seeds indoors, you need to prepare the pots (one pot for seed) and seed starting mix.
For spring planting, you must sow the seeds in late winter so that you can transplant the seedlings in early springs.
You can transplant the seedlings when they are 5 weeks old and plant them a bit deeper than when they were in pots.
3. Caring for the Plant
The next step is caring for the plants. These are some tips in doing it.
Broccoli plants love to grow in moist soil. Therefore, you need to water it regularly. If the temperature is hotter, you need to water more.
Moreover, it is recommended to water them deeply. It is also important to keep the plant dry to avoid certain diseases.
You need to fertilize the plants each month. In doing it, you had better choose organic fertilizer. If you see that the leaves are yellowing, you must fertilize the plant with high nitrogen fertilizer.
Before the plant start to flower, you need to fertilize it with fertilizer that is low in nitrogen.
How to Avoid Pests and Diseases
To protect the plants from weed, you can apply mulch around the plant. Mulch will also keep the soil cool and moist.
Moreover, to protect the plants from pests, you can use a row cover. It is also important to plant this vegetable in areas where you don’t plant the cabbage family recently.
How to Avoid Bolting
Bolting will happen when the temperature gets warmer. To avoid it, you can apply thick mulch around the plant.
Moreover, you also need to water it more when the weather is hot. Thick mulch and water will keep the soil cool so that your broccoli will not show any bolting sign.
Moreover, a row cover will also protect the plants from heat.
The flower heads can be harvested when they are tight and firm. The best time to do it is in the morning. If you see that your broccoli plants start to flowers, you need to cut the flower heads immediately.
After the first harvest, most broccoli variety will produce side shoots. You can harvest them for weeks, even months, to come.
If you have too many broccoli flower heads to cook, you can blanch them and store them in the freezer. Frozen broccoli will last for months.
If you follow the steps above, you will likely gain a nice harvest in about three months.
To improve your chance of success, you can choose broccoli varieties that are resistant to diseases and have excellent heat tolerance.