From time-to-time, I’ve grown broccoli in my small kitchen garden. This is an ideal vegetable for someone who hasn’t done much gardening, but there are a few things worth knowing before you get started.
Start from live plants
If you’re new to gardening and planting broccoli, do yourself a favor and buy plants already started at a garden store (if your small kitchen garden is deep in the city, you might have to start from seeds, but I’m encouraging you to make this as easy as possible).
Broccoli tolerates crowding
Instructions that come with the plant(s) or seeds will tell you to grow them two-to-three feet apart. I’ve crowded them to one-and-a-half feet between plants. Those plants have reached above my knee, and have produced a fine supply of broccoli spears. There are three disadvantages of crowding your plants:
- It will be hard to move between them… and a broccoli plant gets bushy enough that you might not be able to step over it.
- Disease can spread more easily among crowded plants than it can among plants that are spaced generously.
- The foliage of crowded plants can create a moisture barrier that may trap water and promote rot.
Still, I’ve never had a problem when leaving only 18 inches between broccoli plants.
Don’t harvest the plant
When that big crown of broccoli florets is perfectly ready (you’ll know it because it will look like broccoli you buy in a grocery store), harvest the crown, but leave the rest of the plant alone; the plant will produce more food for you over the next several weeks.
When you harvest, use a sharp knife to cut cleanly through the main stalk an inch or so below where the stem branches to the various clusters of buds. (Each little ball in a broccoli floret is a bud waiting to blossom into a small yellow flower.) Make the cut on a bias so water will run off of it easily.
Prepare your meal
Even if broccoli has never before grown in your neighborhood, the dreaded broccoli worms will find your plants. Actually, the worms aren’t so dreadful, but they’ve turned many a small kitchen gardener off to growing their own broccoli. These worms are smooth and green, and they tend to hide in the branches of broccoli florets.
If you don’t want green worms to cook along with your broccoli, dissolve a few tablespoons of salt in a pot of water, separate the broccoli into serving-sized florets, and soak the florets in the salt water for twenty minutes. Almost all the broccoli worms will die and float to the surface. If you’re not convinced, inspect the florets before you cook them.
About aging broccoli plants
When you harvest the main crown of a broccoli plant, the stem becomes susceptible to rot. In a dry year, the plant may not rot at all. However, don’t be surprised if the stump rots from the center, creating a bowl that holds moisture promoting even more rot. At its worst, a broccoli plant decaying this way can smell incredibly bad… but it may continue to produce more florets on new stalks that grow from the side of the main stalk. If this happens in your garden, you’ll have to decide whether the sustained broccoli harvest is worth having such a stench in your small kitchen garden.
The photo of a broccoli worm (more properly known as the Imported Cabbageworm) is from the University of Kentucky Entomology web page: http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef300.asp
Here are links to other articles about growing broccoli and dealing with broccoli worms:
Broccoli Growing Guide – SOIL PREPRATION You dont need any special form of soil or location to grow broccoli. All it needs is the sunlight with some shadow shades of clouds. But dont grow broccoli under a closed compound. Use a little heavy soil which is not …
Some notes on the broccoli experiment – I thought perhaps that most people don’t grow broccoli in their home gardens because the plants take up too much space and only produce one big head, but from this spring’s sowing, I have had a constant (trickling) supply of broccoli …
The Great Bacillus Thuringiensis Story, no more Woms, non Chemical … – “When I realized I could grow broccoli without ever worrying about worms again, I wanted to get up and dance! No More Worms! For a long time I didn’t eat much broccoli. I planted a lot of it but each spring when my broccoli was starting …