Your ultimate broccoli guide with tips to grow and harvest successfully as well as lots of recipe ideas for cooking fresh and preserving for later.
This broccoli guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you can find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for cooking – both fresh and preserving – a specific fruit or vegetable. See more fruit and vegetable guides here. (Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you – thanks for your support!)
Broccoli. How do you feel about it? While I think more people like it than say, beets, I still get a lot of love-it-or-hate-it kind of responses about broccoli. Especially from my kids. Who aren’t that young anymore, but still are a bit wary of broccoli. They’ll eat it in things (like stir-fries), but would prefer it to not be the main vegetable (like Broccoli and Beef) and do not eat it raw even if covered in a dip.
Other people I know say it’s their favorite vegetable (and much to my wonder, lots of my friends kids fall into this camp!). Me? I didn’t like it as a kid, but love it now, though I prefer it to be crisp-cooked over raw. No matter what the side of the fence you fall on, there’s no denying that it’s a good for you vegetable that can be eaten in lots of different ways – soups, roasted, pickled, salads, and more (like a ‘pizza crust’ you’ll find linked to in the recipes section!).
Why grow broccoli?
Broccoli is surprisingly easy to grow once you figure out how to keep the bugs away (I’ve got a tip for you on that below). Harvesting those huge heads is fun, but more amazing to me is that home grown broccoli stems are super tender and don’t need peeling like supermarket broccoli. And if you choose the right varieties, you can even harvest small ‘side shoot’ heads all summer long if you live in mild climates.
Like many vegetables, broccoli is full of antioxidants and is a source of calcium and vitamin K which helps our bones. Some studies have even found it (along with other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage) to be able to fight cancer and boost the immune system. source
Ultimate Broccoli Guide: Plant & grow
Types and Varieties of Broccoli
Broccoli is a cool season plant that can be grown spring or fall. However, in my western valley Oregon garden I found I could plant broccoli just once in the spring, harvest the main head a few months later and then continue to harvest side shoots from those same plants all summer and into the fall.
Planting 6 to 8 broccoli starts keeps our family of 4 in enough broccoli through the season, then (though as I mentioned, our kids don’t eat a lot of it). The plants slow production through the hottest part of the summer, but then pick up again in the fall. This always works so well for us that I’ve never tried planting a fall crop. The key is to choose the right varieties that produce a lot of side shoots and are more heat tolerant.
Some favorite varieties (TIP: plant 2-3 of varieties with different maturity dates to be able to harvest the initial large heads at staggered times):
Arcadia Broccoli, (hybrid, 70 days) Great broccoli to grow in a compact space. 6-8” heads are followed with a bumper crop of side shoots.
Waltham 29 Broccoli (open-pollinated heirloom, 85 days) Stocky plants 20” in height with dark blue-green mid-sized heads that produces a large number of side shoots after harvest.
Calabrese Broccoli (open-pollinated heirloom, 55 days) Dark green plants are 18-30” in height and produce 3-6” central heads followed by an abundance of side shoots.
Green Magic Broccoli (hybrid, 60 days) A reliable producer for an early to mid summer harvest or for a fall crop with a mid summer planting. After the main head is cut it will show off with a high amount of side shoots.
Summer Purple Broccoli (open-pollinated, 70 days) More of a sprouting broccoli, this is very adaptable to a wide range of sowing dates and provides large amount of long stems with violet purple florets over a long period of time.
How to Grow Broccoli
- For best results start broccoli indoors (or purchase transplants) to plant 2-3 weeks before your last frost date.
- Give broccoli full sun and soil that’s been amended with compost.
- Dig holes a bit deeper than the seedlings were grown, 1-2 ft. apart and add 1/2 cup of organic vegetable fertilizer (optional if using amended soil, but I have the best results with doing this) to each hole.
- You’ll need to provide consistent water – I’m a fan of soaker hoses (it’s how you lessen weeds and disease from water sitting on leaves, too) and using a mulch (plastic or clippings/straw) to help the soil stay moist. If you’re wondering, this is the type of soaker hose I prefer.
Note on Pests
The first time I ever grew broccoli I just planted it and waited for it to mature in the garden like the tomatoes, lettuce, and beans. When the heads were big enough to pick, I was thrilled to have grown broccoli that looked just like the store broccoli. However, when I tried to use it, I saw that the heads were heavily infested with black aphids – like every single branch of the head had hundreds, if not thousands of aphids.
I did everything I could think of to try and rid the heads of the black bugs – soaking overnight in water, soaking in vinegar, even boiling in water. And there were still tons of aphids stuck to the branches. I had to throw them all out – I may have cried (I was a new gardener – it felt like a failure).
I gave up growing them for a few years until I discovered floating row covers. I think they are marketed for keeping the cabbage worms out and frost protection, but for me it’s the aphids that are worse. I wrote all about the benefits of row covers for cole crops here – since I also discovered they provide just enough extra protection and warmth to jump start lots of seedlings in the spring.
How to use floating row covers for broccoli: Cover newly planted bed completely with the row cover as shown in the photo above (I use metal hoops like these to protect the baby seedlings and earth staples to secure the cloth as well as the clothespins and rocks you see to create the tunnel). As the plants grow and push at the cover, loosen the clothespins.
Eventually the plants are high enough that the cover is on top and just over the sides, which still seems to help keep the aphids away, but does allow for the cabbage loopers. Keep an eye out for them and use Diatomaceous Earth or Bt as needed.
Remove the cover completely after harvesting the main stems, unless you still have a problem with aphids – it makes it easier to see and harvest the side shoots. In my garden, aphids are mainly a menace in the spring and again when the weather cools in the fall.
You can read more about growing broccoli here.
Harvesting Broccoli Tips
You’ll want to harvest your heads when they are large, but the little green buds are tightly closed. What I learned after my first season was that if broccoli heads are left to grow all those buds will open to reveal yellow flowers (Who knew? This is why is so amazing to grow at least some of your food!). If the head gets away from you and some of the buds start opening, it’s still okay to eat – just pick it as soon as you can.
Cut 5-6 inches of stem (remember, it’s tender and great to eat!) and cut at a slant so that any water that hits the cut stem will not sit and potentially cause rot.
I learned a lot of what I know of gardening through books! Here are a few that would be helpful in learning to plant and care for broccoli (and other vegetables):
- Mother Earth News Guide to Vegetable Gardening
- The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables
- The Backyard Homestead