Have you ever thought how difficult might be to plant and grow broccoli? There is more into that than just seed, plant, harvest, repeat. Therefore, I have decided to make a guide on how to grow these unusual plants and to break it into sections by maturity. Here are broccoli plant stages you have to follow, to get the most out of harvest.
This guide will serve well those who have never grown broccoli before as well those who are already experienced gardeners. A quick, convenient checklist is at your disposal.
These tree-look-alike vegetables are considered among the most healthy-to-eat ones. At the same time, they are the most hated ones, if you ask children. They are low in carbs and fat and contain a high level of vitamins C and K. also, they will supply you with vitamin B and manganese.
Here are some general facts about these green mini-trees:
Stage 0 – No Broccoli (Yet)
Many people think that sowing can be done just about any time. The truth can’t be further than this, however. Planting and growing broccoli will require planning and careful management. Therefore, take out the calendar, and start circling the dates.
The most important thing when it comes to preparation is the soil. Not all plants require the same terms, and nutrients, moist and pH value are different for some varieties of the same plant, less among other species. Majority of these factors can be checked by simple pH testing kit, which can often do a bit more than simple acidity measuring.
Since broccoli requires cool weather, and if germination stage and time spent in a container lasts for six weeks approximately, two weeks after the last frost is roughly great time to move them to the garden. In simple words, I had to put the seeds into container four weeks before expected last frost.
On the other hand, if the climate in your area is hot, you might want to consider fall sowing, where the seeds are sown about 90 to 100 days before the first frost, or consider taking some varieties which are more resistant to hot weather (Green Goliath or Green Duke, for example).
Since preparing soil requires about three weeks, start preparing it one week before frosts end. For my area, the second half of March was the time when I usually consider not have any below-zero temperatures.
As for fertilizers and manure, in case that you decide to take the first option, work in 14:14:14 timed-release fertilizer into the soil. Also, a few inches of rich compost will be great as well. Due to lack of flowers and fruits, broccoli requires a high amount of nitrogen. Blood meal will do great in later stages of growth, but as preparation, go with 14:14:14 NPK or compost. To infuse fertilizer into the soil, I have raked it once in every few days. This way I have dissipated any possible lumps, and I have kept the ground aerated.
If the pH of the soil is a bit more off the charts, you can still amend it at this time. Knowing how to do so will help you much, so take that kit and start measuring!
Stage 1 – Broccoli Seeds And Germination
Although broccoli are fond of colder weather, they still need temperature for successful germination. The lowest possible temperature for this process is 40°F, but I didn’t want to risk; 80°F was what I was aiming for. The heating system under the containers might be required, but if you have a warm kitchen with a lot of space or a hallway with big windows, this is the location you can take into consideration, as long as the temperature remains constant.
As for the variety, it is up to your preference, and the weather dictates which one you will take. I have opted for the Flash (not DC’s superhero), since it is resistant to high temperatures, and grows pretty fast. Moreover, it sports excellent side-shoots which continue to grow even when the head is harvested (this sounds so wrong).
So, what I did is to take a container and plant two seeds per cell if you are using a tray with compartments. If not, see that container is at least 3” deep. As for pots, they are not quite recommended for this occasion, since you will need a lot of those. ½ an inch depth is enough for seeds to start growing, and there is no need to sow them deeper.
In this stage, watering and sunlight are essential, so make sure that you are watering regularly, but don’t overdo it. Too much moisture can cause roots to rot, thus killing the seedlings. Therefore, drainage must be superb, and if containers don’t have enough drainage holes, make some more, but be careful not to tip it over.
Stage 2 – Transferring The Seedlings
Once the temperature settles, and there are no more sudden frosts, you can plan to move your precious seedlings to a colder area, to harden them and get used to cold. This step is not essential, however, but if the climate is warmer in your area, you may move to the garden right away. This moving is usually 4-6 weeks after sowing, but it differs from variety to variety. When leaves and small stem appear, the time for moving draws near.
Once the first set of true leaves have appeared, this is a call for action. Take a long rope and stretch it to where you have planned to sow the seedlings. This is done because lines will be straight, and there will be less chance to accidentally step on a vegetable while making rounds and checking the plants.
As for the spacing, at least 19” between seedlings is needed, with 24” of space between rows. This is the same situation as with cabbage growing, it might seem a bit ridiculous to leave so much space between plants, but keep in mind that they will grow and fill the gap between. If you are uncertain, leave more space, there is no harm in this approach.
Watering should be done right after planting because the soil might be a bit drier than broccoli likes it. Therefore, an inch of water is great to give them a boost. In case that seedlings have hanged their leaves, don’t worry, this happens from time to time; once adequately watered, they will recover.
Three weeks after sowing is the right timing for first fertilization. As I said at the beginning of the article, nitrogen-rich fertilizer is a must for broccoli. The alternatives include blood meal or homemade manure tea. The latter, however, should be applied a bit more often, since it is mild, and contains less nutrients. However, if you decide to go with this approach, cut on watering. In case that you don’t have enough time to dedicate to watering, there are a lot of sprinklers which might help you on this matter.
Stage 3 – Growing Strong And Big
One of the most troubling things you can do is to overwater the broccoli. Too much water may lead to developing of several kinds of fungi, or to diluted taste. Around 1-1.5 inch of water per week is what broccoli needs. In case that the weather is too hot, consider mulching. Ground tree bark is fantastic for this purpose; it will keep the soil cooler and weeds at bay. They can’t penetrate this defense that is certain!
While it grows, broccoli attracts a lot of different pests. Those who are attacking cabbage will most likely target these vegetables as well. Aphids and mites can appear, but not as often as whiteflies and cabbage maggots. The latter are especially nasty since they feed on the stem of the plant. If you notice them, scrape the top layer of the ground, apply wood ash, and cover with soil and water.
The most prominent pest which attacks all vegetables related to cabbage is cabbage butterfly, or as I call it “The Infamous Cabbage Robber.” These guys are very persistent, and their whole life cycle depends on the plant. They will lay eggs here, eat the leaves and develop. Getting rid of them is not that hard though, all that is needed are the row covers; a net which prevents them from feasting on your vegetables.
It happened to me once that lower leaves of the broccoli began to turn yellow. At first, I thought that they lack water, but the ground was watered regularly. Then, it hit me; one fast check of nutrients showed me that my veggies lack nitrogen. All of the cabbage family are heavy feeders and will spend the reserves of this element fast. If it happens that leaves are turning yellow and that this change of color goes up toward the head, infuse more nitrogen, and they will be fine.
Stage 4 – Harvesting And Storage
As for harvesting, I can’t tell you exactly when you should collect the fruits of your labor. Depending on the variety, broccoli might need from 60 to staggering 250 days to be ready for harvesting. On the other hand, you can always keep a good look at the head of the plant. It is the best indicator of the condition.
Once the head starts to look like a tree and begins to tighten up and become hard to touch, you can prepare the knife because harvesting is not far. If the flower had developed in the middle and smaller buds are tight, you can harvest the broccoli without a problem. But, if you wait for too long, and the buds begin to flower as well (the most noticeable sign is the yellow tint) cut it off immediately.
You can harvest the central part and leave side-grows for an additional source of broccoli since they continue to grow even longer.
Storing broccoli is difficult since they will last only but a week in the refrigerator. However, there is a way to save the broccoli in the freezer. You will need a bucket with ice, a zip-lock bag, and broccoli, of course.
Start with cutting broccoli into smaller pieces. Now, take pot large enough for all of it to fit. Boil no more than 3 minutes (this is an absolute top border), and drain water from the pot. Pour ice over blanched broccoli; this part is essential, it will cool of the vegetables, so they will not continue “cooking.” Dry the vegetables, put into a zip-lock bag and put it in the freezer. They can last for a few months like this.
So, here it is! Broccoli plant stages are at your disposal, so you know what to do during specific periods of growth. These are wonderful plants, and if you have kids and show them the whole process, I’m sure that they will not leave it on the plate after dinner.
As always, any comment, opinion or advice is more than welcome in the comment section below.