I’m a weirdo.
No, it’s okay, I’ve accepted it.
Not a lot of people will come out and say that broccoli is their favorite vegetable, but I will. When chopping it for dinner, I can easily eat about a cup of it raw. I think it goes with pretty much everything. And when I saw that one of my favorite food bloggers had created a recipe for broccoli pizza? I made it that same week.
(And I made zero apologies to my skeptical-looking husband because you know what? I knew it would be delicious.)
Given the amount of broccoli I buy—both fresh and frozen—I put it pretty high on the list of things to plant in my dream garden. I planned, I ordered seeds, I planted them indoors…and I promptly found that my favorite vegetable was kind of a pain in the ass.
But if you’re prepared ahead of time with a little extra information on timing and care, you can definitely pull off a successful broccoli harvest.
This porridge is just right
Broccoli is part of the cabbage family. Like many members of this family, it prefers cooler temperatures. So you have to make sure you plant it early enough in the season that it has time to mature.
Of course, you don’t want to plant it too early in the spring, or too late in the fall, because frost will hurt it.
This is a what I like to call a “goldilocks plant.” It doesn’t like things too cold. It really doesn’t like things too hot. It wants things juuuuuuust right.
Which makes me want to roll my eyes and find new favorite vegetable.
I did some research and found that in my USDA plant hardiness zone, broccoli is best planted out from mid-March to mid-April in spring, and late July through early August—that’s right, you can grow broccoli twice a year! Because weather in my region tends to warm up pretty fast in spring, I went on the early side of that and planted the seedlings I’d started back in February on St. Paddy’s Day. I figured a little luck couldn’t hurt.
To stake or not to stake? That is the question.
Once the seedlings started to take off, watching a spring or fall storm roll through was like watching a hair band perform. The leaves—which grew at an astonishing rate—thrashed around so much, I worried the tender stalks would snap in half. After the storm passed, they’d lie haphazard on the soil.
In my research on growing broccoli, I hadn’t seen a single thing about staking it. But I decided to do it anyway—the storms would only get more violent as the season went on.
I stake them with 2-foot sections of bamboo, and secure them with Velcro gardening tape. I LOVE this tape…it’s super handy in this case because the stalk of the broccoli thickens to an inch or more as it matures, and the Velcro allows you to loosen up the tape easily and give the stalks more room to grow as they get bigger.
Immediately after I staked them all, they took off like crazy. Once they get strong enough to hold their own, you can take the tape off. But I’d go ahead and leave the stakes, in case pulling them out could disturb the root system.
Broccoli needs a lot of water. After all, it has to grow a LOT in a short amount of time. Make sure it gets 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week.
Get a rain gauge for your garden (they’re super cheap!) so you can see how much you’re getting from rainfall, and make up the difference with the garden hose.
Broccoli in bloom
By mid-May, most of the plants will be more than two feet tall, with leaves like elephant ears and strong, thick stalks. They should be ready to bloom any day if they haven’t already.
Yes, “bloom.” Did you know that the part of broccoli that you most commonly eat is actually a bunch of immature flower buds? I didn’t.
I also learned that the second you start seeing those suckers open up or yellow, you’d better cut the head off and eat it real quick—even if it’s the size of a quarter. Opened blossoms are mealy and not fun to eat.
Like a mouthful of broccoli-flavored sand.
That reminds me…
Big heads, little heads…it’s all broccoli
Don’t get caught up trying to produce the biggest heads of broccoli you can. This only ends up in opened buds and missed opportunities. Watch the main head closely after you start to see it bloom, and once it’s big enough to harvest, go ahead and cut it off. When you do, cut off a few inches of the stalk, too. You can peel it and chop it up with the heads.
If there’s enough of the growing season left, cutting off the main head will actually encourage the plant to send out smaller, secondary heads for a few more weeks. So start harvesting already!
If you have additional broccoli growing tips, by all means, throw them in the hat by commenting below!