Growing broccoli in the right conditions, at the right time of year can be very rewarding. It is quite a heavy feeder so good soil prep and continued care is essential for a healthy yield.
Best Time of Year for Broccoli
Broccoli likes to mature in cooler weather where it will produce sweet heads without bolting and flowering, which makes it bitter to the taste, due to warmer weather. Heat-stressed broccoli opens it’s flower buds prematurely, and high temperatures as broccoli matures can cause bitter, loose heads to form, leaving you with smaller and less tasty florets. Autumn is a great time to harvest and plant broccoli, especially if you aren’t living in a frost zone.
Best Place to Plant Broccoli
Broccoli grows best in full sun but tolerates a bit of shade during warmer Autumn spells.
Soil Prep & Care
Add rich, matured manure to your broccoli beds before planting and continue to feed with well rotted compost and matured manure a few time throughout the growing season.
Broccoli enjoys a slightly acidic soil with a PH of between 6.0 – 6.8. To increase soil acidity, add pine needles to your mulch (more on mulch below).
According to Rodale’s Organic Life, “The right pH and the organic matter help ensure that nutrients, particularly essential micronutrients like boron, are readily available. A boron deficiency can cause broccoli to develop hollow stems, but adding too much is toxic to plants, so a soil test is essential.”
Broccoli is a heavy-feeding plant, requiring large amounts of calcium for healthy crop production. Add crushed eggshells to your compost for an added calcium boost.
Mulch, Drainage & Aeration
Mulch to prevent evaporation. This will help to maintain a high moisture content, which the broccoli enjoys – but remember, it also requires well drained soil so ensure your soil is not compacted. Cover crops such as vetch or clover improve drainage by breaking up heavy, compacted soil with their roots and by increasing soil’s organic matter content as they decompose.
Add some earthworms to the beds to aid in soil aeration. If you are farming with earthworms, you can also add some vermicompost to your seedling starter mix as well as to your beds then cover with mulch to prevent the goodness from evaporating.
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We have found that planting Nasturtiums close by draws aphids away from the broccoli and the prolific Nasturtiums don’t seem to suffer. We remove infested leaves from the Nasturtiums and burn them so as not to infest other plants or get them into our compost piles.
Other helpful companions of broccoli include various herbs like dill, sage, rosemary, basil, mint, garlic and thyme. The strong aroma of these herbs helps to repel common garden pests that enjoy feasting on broccoli as much as you do!
Insect pests are generally less prevalent in autumn than in spring but if you do encounter caterpillars, you can pick them off by hand.
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For best flavour it is recommended that you harvest broccoli heads while the buds are just starting to swell but before the yellow petals start to show.
It’s important to harvest broccoli in the morning before the plants heat up, because broccoli has a really high respiration rate.
When the head begins to spread open, the individual buds start to flower. Harvest the central head by cutting the stalk at a slant, about 10-12cm below the head. This encourages side-shoot production for continued harvests.
Do you have any Broccoli growing tips to share? We’d love to hear them!
Till Next Time,
Shireen & Kathy
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