Broccoli is a hardy, cool weather loving plant that is easy to grow and wonderful to eat making it a favorite of many gardeners. Rich in vitamins A & C, potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium broccoli is a beneficial vegetable to add to your diet.
Because broccoli requires cool temperatures and can even handle a light frost many gardeners start broccoli indoors to get a jump start on the growing season. Broccoli seeds can be started in a variety of containers from store bought flats and starter trays to egg cartons or other simple containers you have about the house. Broccoli is extremely tolerant of a variety of soils, but prefers a sandy loam soil rich in organic matter. Plant seeds and water well and place in a warm, sunny place indoors. Sun lights can also be used in place of real sun. Temperatures indoors should be maintained between 75-85°F for the best seed germination.
Seeds can also be direct sown outdoors after the danger of a hard freeze has passed. Temperatures at night should be no cooler than 50 degrees and day time temperatures no higher than 85°F for successful outdoor seed germination and plant growth.
Once indoor seedlings sprout, plants should be thinned to one seedling every 1 ½-2 inches. Broccoli plant health is directly related to the amount of space each plant is allotted, so it is important not to overcrowd the plants, even little seedlings! While your seedlings are growing and you are waiting for outdoor conditions to get right fro transplanting you need to be getting your garden plot ready.
broccoli is very tolerant of a wide variety of soil types but prefers a soil with a pH between 6 and 7. A soil with a proper pH that is well drained and high in organic matter will maximize growth and reduce the risk of disease. In addition, it is important that broccoli and other members of the family to which is belongs (Brassicaceae which includes cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts and several others) be rotated within a garden and not grown in the same spot year after year. For direct seeding, sow seeds ¼ inch deep and every 8-10 inches with rows about 30 inches apart. Pack the soil lightly over the seeds and water well. Soil for transplanted seedlings should be loose and easy to work with.
Seedlings are ready to transplant at about 6-8 weeks old approximately 4 weeks before and up to 2 weeks after the last spring frost is expected in your area. Begin hardening off broccoli seedlings a week or so before you anticipate transferring them to the garden. To harden of the plants, move them to the area where the will eventually be moved to starting with just a couple hours of full exposure each day and building up to the plants being transplanted and left in their new environment full time. Taking the time to harden off your plants will avoid shocking them and risking weakening or killing them.
Once your seedlings have been transplanted and/or your in garden seeds have taken off be sure to keep the garden bed watered evenly. Do not let your broccoli plants dry out! Carefully tend to your plants helping them to grow steadily until harvest time. Broccoli heads should be harvested when the buds are still small and tightly closed. If your broccoli heads yellow, or start to bloom it is too late to harvest them.
Broccoli perishes quickly after it has been harvested, so it is best to eat it quickly or preserve it for future use by freezing or other methods. Two crops of broccoli can be grown in most areas, one in the spring and one in the fall giving growers plenty of broccoli to eat year round.