Botanical name: Brassica oleracea
Did you know that when you are eating broccoli, you are actually eating little bouquets of flower buds? Like all home grown vegetables, they are tastier than shop bought, and nothing is more satisfying than munching on produce that you have watched grow from a tiny seed.
Broccoli is a member of the brassica family along with cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, arugula, bok choy, and collard greens.
Varieties of broccoli
- Di Cicco Early: An early producing heirloom variety with compact bluish-green heads that produce many side shoots.
- Green Sprouting Calibrese: An heirloom with compact dark-green heads up to 20cm across. Continues producing side heads once main head is harvests and is slow to bolt.
- Goliath: Large blue-green head with tights buds.
- Italian Green Sprouting: A stocky plant with large solid green heads that withstands late Autumn cold.
- Purple Sprouting Early: A hardy English heirloom with purple side shoots that turn green when cooked.
- Broccoletti: First developed in Japan and has a favour reminiscent of asparagus.
- Broccoli Raab: Related to the turnip, with similar flowering heads to regular broccoli. Slightly nutty and pungent flavour.
When do I plant broccoli in Australia?
Plant your broccoli according to your climatic region. You can grow your seedlings up in trays ready to plant a bit earlier if they are given protection from the heat.
- Cold/Frost Climates: October to March
- Mild Climates (Sydney, Perth, Adelaide): September to April
- Subtropic Coastal: February to May
- Tropics: February to June
Are seeds or seedlings best?
You can sow seeds directly or grow up plants in seedling trays to transplant into your garden. Seedling trays can be a great option for making the best use of space in your garden and allow you plenty of time to prepare your soil. Transplant after around 6 weeks. For best results plant as early as possible within the suggested time frame.
Plant in well prepared soil
Provide a rich, well-drained soil enriched with well-rotted compost and manure. A pH of 6.5 to 7 is ideal. Keep well mulched because broccoli like cool soil temperatures.
Grow broccoli in containers
If you have a small garden, try growing some broccoli in containers. Watching them grow over 14 weeks is a fun activity and it helps us understand the value of food. After you have grown this yourself you are unlikely to let it wilt in the fridge and these food values tend to stay with us.
Find a sunny position and water regularly
Broccoli enjoy the sun, and require regular deep watering. Mulching will help retain moisture in the soil.
Feed plants well
Give your plants a feed twice over the growing season. Once just after planting your seedlings and then again when the main flower head forms. A fortnightly dose of seaweed solution is also helpful.
Look out for pests
Broccoli are susceptible to cabbage white butterflies, white fly, aphids, slugs and snails. Natural predators will generally keep these in check for you, but it’s important to keep an eye on your plants.
Pick off caterpillars and consider exclusion netting from the time of planting. Hose off any aphids and whitefly and if populations get really out of control then try making a soap or garlic spray. Trap or pick up slugs and snails.
Practice crop rotation
Crop rotation is important because different families of plants are more susceptible to certain diseases and use different levels of nutrients. By rotating crops plants are less likely to become diseased and have more ideal levels of nutrients.
Harvesting and storing your produce
Your broccoli will take around 16 to 20 weeks to form. Cut the central head when it is well-formed, and a few weeks later you will be able to pick a second harvest of side shoots. Use immediately, store in the refrigerator or cut into smaller heads, blanch and freeze.
Where can I buy seeds?
Go to your local nursery or search for seed stores online. Try to buy seeds that have been grown in Australia. You could also join a local savers group or simply collect your own seeds to re-plant each season.
Can I save my own seed?
Seed is relatively easy to save yourself although be aware that broccoli can cross-pollinate with other members of the brassica family such as cauliflower. Leave the seed to mature on the plant and collect when it starts to dry out. Store in a dark, cool air-tight jar and it will last up to five years.
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