One of the healthiest of the green vegetables that can be easily grown in a garden is broccoli. Being extremely rich in vitamin C this cool weather crop can be very easy to add to your overall food crop.
Broccoli is a cool weather crop that allows two growing periods per year. Since the best temperature for growing broccoli is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, one should determine just when this average set of temperatures will be occurring where they are at. This is true for both the first crop in the spring and the second crop in the fall. As a rule of thumb, plant the seeds about four to six week before the last frost of winter and again about six to eight weeks before the first frost of the next winter. Broccoli is not grown to its best effect in the summer as the higher temperatures cause it to “bolt” or go to seed too quickly.
The most effective soil to grow broccoli in is a well-drained soil with a pH of between 5.8 and 6.5. The soil should be rich in nutrient and organic matter. While working the soil to the right pH and consistency, it is best to also lay in some fertilizer in a 5-10-10 mix to give optimum nutrient potential for your broccoli crop. The soil should have a consistency somewhere between sandy and clay loam. It may be necessary to work some extra soil matter into your garden soil to achieve the right mix for good broccoli. Water your broccoli crop in the early mornings to the extent that the soil is wetted down to about six inches. Too little water and the plants will develop shallow roots that will not reach down to the level where the proper nutrition can be found for it.
If you are starting your seeds in peat pots, it is best to place two seeds in each receptacle at a depth of between one quarter and one half inches deep. You should fill the peat pots with equal parts topsoil, sand and peat moss. Once the broccoli seeds have sprouted you should keep them watered well enough to keep the soil moist but not so wet as to cause the new plant’s roots to get soggy and begin to rot. After the young broccoli plants have developed their second or third set of leaves they can be placed in the garden at a distance of between 18 and 24 inches in rows that are two to three feet apart.
Maintain a good, consistent water supply throughout the growing season. Additional fertilizer consisting of fish emulsion or well rotted compost or manure will add the essential nutrients the broccoli needs for best results. Cabbage worms and aphids are the primary pests to watch out for. Hand picking the worms or using a hard water spray on the aphids is effective for removing them and keeping your plants healthy.
Finally, you will want to harvest your broccoli heads when the central head is a couple of inches across. Utilizing a sharp knife, take the head a few inches below the top but still above the top set of leaves. You must do this before the flower clumps have bloomed. If done correctly the broccoli will then develop “side shoots” which can be harvested later. If the winter is mild enough you may even be able to harvest from these secondary shoots all winter long.