How to grow Broccoli
Broccoli is a firm favourite winter go to for us kiwis. It's the most popular winter vegetable bought from the supermarket nationwide. If we can crack how to grow it ourselves, we'll be saving pennies and making sure our families have a nutritious ready supply from the garden right through the winter season. Here's my top tips.
Broccoli does best in well fed and prepared soil. I load up my soil at the end of summer/beginning of autumn by digging in horse manure and leaving it to work itself in for two to four weeks. (It always makes sense to use what you have, so you might have sheep manure, cow manure, sheep pellets or compost and these are all fine). I tend to go with two heaped shovels full per square metre, and really dig it in. Autumn and winter can be windy and can blow your broccoli seedlings about, so once your manure is added I like to press this soil down firmly on the top so when it's ready for seedling to be planted they'll stay in nice and snug.
Sowing From Seed
In a warm place sow seeds in shallow holes in punnets into seed raising mix and fill over. Keep the soil moist and within a week to ten days the seedlings will appear. Once seedling shoots are up you can water with seaweed tonic to encourage root growth. Once two sets of leaves appear the seedlings are ready to be planted in the garden. I tend to keep mine until the second set of leaves is large, so the seedlings are more robust when they are planted out.
Plant your seedlings quite deep and firmly into the soil in a sunny position. Up to the top of the lower leaves is fine. This will give them more stability as they establish and grow. I plant my seedlings in blocks, around 30cm apart.
Feeding and Caring for Growing Plants
To support your plants as they grow you can top feed with some blood and bone or with a liquid seaweed tonic once every couple of weeks as you remember. It's good to remember to keep firming the soil at the base of your plants too, so they remain stable. If your growing seedlings are moving a lot in loose soil their roots can become stressed and their growth will be stunted.
The most common pest for broccoli is the pesky white butterfly. Your plants can also be susceptible to infestation from aphids. There are some tips and tricks to minimizing those painful pest problems including covering your crops, companion planting to deter pests and using organic pest sprays to take care of major infestations. Find out more how to manage pests on your broccoli here.
Around ten to twelve weeks from planting your broccoli heads will appear. you can cut these to harvest them once they are fully formed. If you cut the stem of the main flower head on an angle, then four side shoots will develop from beneath and grow to a nice healthy size also. You can keep on harvesting shoots this way for several weeks. What a great way to maximise your harvest!
Autumn Winter or Spring Crops
There are a few different schools of thought about when's the best time to grow broccoli so your resulting plants are large and healthy. I've tested a few different times of the year, and here's what I've found. When I grow broccoli from seedling stage planted in July, so they grow from cool weather into warmer weather in the spring my heads are always much larger than when I grow from autumn into cooler winter weather. (I've found the same with my cauli too!). This isn't to say I don't recommend growing broccoli all through autumn and winter, it's just that I've observed that my July planted crops are much larger when harvested that my March planted crops.
I hope these tips help with your winter broccoli growing this year.