Broccoli

Broccoli is an edible green plant in the cabbage family whose large flowering head, stalk and small associated leaves are eaten as a vegetable. Broccoli is classified in the Italica cultivar group of the species Brassica oleracea. The botanical name of broccoli is Brassica oleracea var. italica. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, sprouting broccoli was cultivated in Italy in ancient Roman times and was introduced to England and America in the 1700s.



Broccoli is a stout, thick-stemmed plant in the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Large, blue-gray leaves are leathery and oblong, arranged around an upright trunk-like structure that supports a flowering head. The part we eat is actually the buds of the broccoli flower. If left unharvested, the broccoli head would open into small greenish-yellow flowers. Although most broccoli is green, there are also some delicious and beautiful purple varieties.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

1 - 3 feet


Width-Circumference (Avg)

1 - 2 feet


Approximate pH

6.0 - 7.0


Growth Nutrition of Broccoli


Broccoli likes nitrogen-rich fertilizer, full sun and moist soil. It does best in a soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, which also discourages clubroot disease. Broccoli likes cool soil, so adding grass clipping around the plants helps.


Types of Broccoli Varieties


There are many varieties of broccoli that range in appearance, growth rate, and more, including:


Calabrese



‘Calabrese’ is an heirloom variety, and it is an old Italian type. The Calabrese broccoli matures in around 65 days and is perfect when planted in the fall. In fact, as the weather gets cooler the heads actually get sweeter. The broccoli has deep-green heads that are a medium size, and there are a lot of side shoots produced once the central head is harvested. Great for fall planting, too.


  • Belstar: Belstar is a compact, heat-tolerant hybrid variety. The 16-20 inch plant forms 6-8 inch blue-green heads.


  • Destiny: ‘Destiny’ is a hybrid, which grows medium green rounded heads on 12-18 inches dwarf plant. This variety does not produce side shoots.

  • Blue Wind: ‘Blue Wind’ is also a hybrid broccoli variety. It produces light blue leaves and tightly packed dense heads. You can harvest the side shoots all season long.


  • DiCicco: ‘DiCicco’ is an Italian heirloom variety. It produces small to medium-sized blue-green heads and side shoots.


  • Waltham 29: This open-pollinated heirloom variety is popular for its cold tolerance with large blue-green heads, and side shoots. After harvesting, you can enjoy the tasty side shoots.


  • Eastern Magic: ‘Eastern Magic’ grows flavorful, large blue-green heads. This heat-tolerant variety performs well in both spring and fall.


  • Green Magic: ‘Green Magic’ is a hybrid variety that produces medium-sized, smooth, and well-domed crowns. It has a distinct buttery flavor.


  • Sun King: ‘Sun King’ is an exclusive heat-tolerant variety. This delicious broccoli has 6-8 inches blue-green heads with lots of side shoots.


Sprouting Broccoli


Sprouting broccoli (Brassicaoleracea var. italica) is a tall, leafy, stalky plant with individual florets instead of a central head. Slightly more bitter than typical broccoli, the leaves, stalks, and florets are all edible. When searching for varieties online, you will bump into information about broccoli sprouts, which are germinated broccoli seeds grown for a few days and then added to salads and sandwiches. Sprouts are delicious but are very different from sprouting broccoli.


Sprouting broccoli is commonly planted in fall and overwintered for an early spring harvest. 6 to 8 weeks of cold temperatures (at or below 50°F/10°C ) are needed to produce florets. Overwintering might seem like a daunting commitment, but early spring harvests are so welcome after a long winter!


The main types of sprouting broccoli are purple and white. Although a vivid purple when raw, purple sprouting broccoli turns green when cooked. White sprouting broccoli has white florets and a milder, sweeter taste than the purple variety. White sprouting broccoli is more common in Britain but its popularity is increasing in the U.S.


  • Purple Sprouting: It forms multiple purple florets on each stem instead of a single large head. Home growers admire it for the ability to come up in early spring after ‘winter over.’


  • White Sprouting Broccoli: This open-pollinated variety produces fewer florets and has a milder flavor. It has loose heads and slim stalks that look like cauliflower.


  • Burgundy: This sprouting broccoli produces purple florets on purple-green slender stems. It has a sweet, tender flavor that you can enjoy raw in salads or cook in your favorite dishes.


  • Santee: This hybrid broccoli produces purple buds on green stems. You can plant it in early spring for a fall harvest or grow as a winter crop in mild climates.


  • Red Fire: With bright purple florets, this cold-hardy hybrid broccoli variety is perfect for overwintering. Tastes great when sauteed.


  • Burbank: The creamy-white spears of this hybrid sprouting broccoli grow on slender light green stems and form small white florets.


Romanesco Broccoli



Romanesco broccoli (Brassica oleracea var.Botrytis ) is a stunning bright green broccoli cousin that naturally resembles a fractal. It’s almost too beautiful to eat! It looks like a cross between cauliflower in texture and broccoli in color, so it’s no wonder it’s also known as Roman cauliflower.


  • Orbit: This hybrid broccoli forms a lime green head that can be harvested earlier compared to the other Romanesco varieties.

  • Puntoverde/ 26-70: It prefers areas without harsh heat and has a mild sweet taste that goes best with salads. This variety can overwinter in mild gardening areas.


  • Veronica: ‘Veronica’ produces lime green heads with spiral points. Its creamy and nutty flavor tastes best in raw or cooked forms, both.


Chinese Broccoli


As its name implies, Chinese broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra) originated in China. It’s known by many other names like Chinese kale, gai lan, kailaan, and others. Chinese broccoli has very thick stems and large green leaves. It’s known to taste bitter, but soaking it in cold water before cooking reduces that quality.



Its relatively short growing time, between 35 and 50 days, makes it a great vegetable for planting in spring or summer for fall harvest, or year-round in moderate climates.


  • Big Boy: Big Boy is an early hybrid variety; it forms tender, thick stems and pairs great with soups and salads.

  • Crispy Blue: ‘Crispy Blue’ produces thick, glossy leaves and crispy stems, just like the name. You can roast or bake it with garlic and lemon for lunch or dinner.


  • Blue Wonder: This hassle-free blue-green plant forms Crispy, tender stems that won’t bolt or flower early. It grows easily in most of the climates.


  • Green Jade: This excellent hybrid variety is prized with vigorous growth, disease resistance, and high yields. It forms tender stems and smooth, dark green leaves.

  • Emerald Green: ‘Emerald Green’ produces smooth leaves. Plant this variety in late spring and enjoy flavorful broccoli in summer or grow in summer for a fall harvest.


Broccoli Rabe


Broccoli rabe (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) has some familiar features of broccoli but it’s actually part of the same subspecies as turnips. Also known as rapini, the green leaves are used in cooking much like turnip greens. Its small, spiky, broccoli-ish florets aren’t the focus. Rather, rapini’s slightly bitter leaves are featured in southern Italian cuisine.


Broccoli rabe grows extremely fast. Paired with its cut-and-come-again growth, you will have an all-you-can-eat buffet of tasty greens from the beginning to the end of the season.


  • Spigariello Liscia: It offers more leaves than florets, with a mix flavor of kale and broccoli. Harvest single leaves for continuous growth all season long.


  • Quarantina: ‘Quarantina’ produces lots of peppery leaves. It grows fast, up to 10-12 inches tall. This variety can be planted at any time of the year.


  • Sessantina Grossa: This fast-growing variety is hardy to zones 4-10 and produces blue-green leaves and large florets with a strong flavor.


  • Novantina: The small, loosely clustered florets with tender leaves grow well in cool temperatures but can be planted at any time of the year in mild climates.


  • Maceratese: The tender stalks and large succulent leaves of ‘Maceratese’ prefer cool temperatures. It tastes best with stews and salads.


Broccolini


Broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It produces long, slender stems with broccoli-like buds on top. It looks like a rabe variety but tastes less bitter than that. It is sometimes called baby broccoli, but this is only in reference to the more delicate size of its stems and florets.


  • Atlantis: The deep green stalks and florets offer good flavor and high yield. Regular harvest boosts floret growth.

  • Aspabroc: Grow this hybrid broccoli in spring or early summer and have an early harvest. It offers mild peppery flavor that goes great with soups.

  • Aspabroc Baby: This hybrid cultivar has a sweet and peppery taste that mellows with cooking. It can also be consumed stirred with salads.


Planting Broccoli


When to Plant


In the spring, plant seeds outdoors roughly two to three weeks prior to your area’s projected last frost date. You also can start seeds indoors approximately six to eight weeks prior to the last frost date for a jump on the growing season.


In the fall, plant seeds in the garden approximately 85 to 100 days prior to your area’s projected first fall frost date.


Selecting a Planting Site


Pick a sunny spot that has good soil drainage for your broccoli. Container growth is an option if you don’t have a suitable garden site.


Some good companion plants for broccoli include dill, rosemary, cucumber, and celery. However, there are some plants that broccoli prefers not to be near in part because they’re heavy feeders, including asparagus and sweet corn.


Spacing, Depth, and Support


Plant seeds roughly 1/2 inch deep and a few inches apart. Rows should be 12 to 20 inches apart. Likewise, thin seedlings to around 12 to 20 inches apart. A support structure shouldn’t be necessary.


Growing Broccoli


How to Grow Broccoli in Pots


Growing broccoli in a container can help you better control the soil, light, and moisture conditions. Plus, containers can sometimes protect plants from garden pests and diseases.


Choose a container that’s at least a foot wide and deep per broccoli plant. Make sure it has drainage holes. Unglazed clay is an ideal material because it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls, helping to prevent overwatering. Also, opt for a light-color container, as dark colors can cause the soil (and roots) to get too warm.


How to Grow Broccoli From Seed


Broccoli seeds need soil temperatures of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. To start them in a container, use a shallow tray filled with moist seed-starter mix. Put the container in bright, indirect light in a spot that ideally remains between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and you should see germination within a week. Harden off the seedlings before planting them outside.


Broccoli Plant Care


Light


Broccoli grows best in a spot with full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, in very hot climates, partial shade from afternoon sun might be necessary to prevent bolting, or the plant flowering and going to seed.


Soil


Broccoli prefers a rich loamy soil with lots of organic matter. Good drainage also is a must. The soil pH should be slightly acidic to neutral.


Water


Keep the soil moist but never soggy. Also, water from the base of the plant, not overhead as this can promote rot. Around 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week should suffice. A layer of mulch can help to retain soil moisture.


Temperature and Humidity


Broccoli does best in temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that are too hot—above roughly 80 degrees Fahrenheit—can cause bolting. Humidity typically isn’t a factor as long as there’s optimal soil moisture and good air circulation around plants.


Fertilizer


Mix compost into the soil before planting to improve its nutrient content and drainage. Then, fertilize using an organic low-nitrogen fertilizer starting a few weeks after seedlings emerge. Repeat fertilization throughout the growing season, following label instructions.


Pollination


As broccoli is typically harvested before it blooms, pollination isn't an issue for most gardeners. Bees and other insects help to pollinate the flowers when they do bloom.


Harvesting Broccoli

  • Harvest broccoli in the morning, when the buds of the head are firm and tight, just before the heads flower.

  • If you do see yellow petals, harvest immediately, as the quality will decrease rapidly.

  • Cut heads from the plant, taking at least 6 inches of stem. Make a slanted cut on the stalk to allow water to slide away. (Water can pool and rot the center of a flat-cut stalk, running the secondary heads.)

  • Most varieties have side-shoots that will continue to develop after the main head is harvested. You can harvest from one plant for many weeks, in some cases, from spring to fall, if your summer isn’t too hot.


How to Store Broccoli

  • Store broccoli in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

  • If you wash before storing, make sure to dry it thoroughly.

  • Broccoli can be blanched and frozen for up to one year.


Pruning and Propagating


Pruning


Pruning generally isn't necessary for broccoli plants. However, you should promptly remove any damaged or diseased stems before they can weaken the whole plant.


Propagating


As long as you don’t have any other members of the Brassica genus in the vicinity of your broccoli plants that could cross-pollinate, you can save seeds to propagate your broccoli. This is a cost-effective and simple way to create more plants, and it allows you to essentially clone varieties that you liked for their flavor, production, and more. You’ll save seeds typically in the summer or fall, depending on when you’ve planted your broccoli. Here’s how:

  1. Let the broccoli grow past the point of when you would normally harvest it. Eventually, small yellow flowers will appear and give way to seed pods.

  2. Once the seed pods turn from green to tan and appear dry, the seeds should be mature. At that point, cut down the entire plant and hang it in a warm, dry spot with good air circulation for a couple weeks so that the seeds continue drying.

  3. Once the seed pods have fully dried, gently cut them from the plant. Crumble them over a white cloth, so you can easily spot and separate the seeds from the chaff.

  4. Store the seeds in an envelope or airtight container labeled with the date. They should be viable for about five years.


Potting and Repotting Broccoli


A quality organic vegetable potting mix should be sufficient for potting broccoli. Just make sure it's rich in organic matter and drains well. Repotting shouldn't be necessary, as it's best to plant broccoli in a container that can accommodate its mature size to avoid disturbing the roots.


Overwintering


As broccoli is generally grown as an annual, no overwintering maintenance will be necessary. If you're trying for a fall harvest, just make sure to plant early enough to beat the freezing temperatures.


Pests and Plant Diseases


Broccoli is susceptible to the same pests and diseases as other members of the cabbage family. The most common pests include cabbage loopers, cabbageworms, cabbage root maggots, and aphids. Row covers can help to prevent infestations.


Common diseases include blackleg, black rot, and clubroot. Disease control is best achieved by rotating where you plant your broccoli each year, as well as making sure it's growing in proper conditions.


Benefits of Broccoli


1. Cancer prevention: Broccoli shares cancer fighting and immune boosting properties with other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Broccoli contains properties that depletes estrogens which usually cause cancer in the body. Research shows that broccoli is extremely suitable for preventing breast and uterus cancer.


2. Cholesterol reduction: Like many whole foods, broccoli is packed with soluble fiber that draws cholesterol out of your body. This is because the fiber in broccoli helps bind with bile acids in the digestive tract. This makes excreting cholesterol out of our body easy. According to a research by the Institute of Food Research, a particular variety of broccoli can help reduce the blood LDL-cholesterol levels by 6 per cent.


3. Reducing allergic reaction and inflammation: Research has shown the ability of kaempferol to lessen the impact of allergy-related substances on our body. Broccoli even has significant amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, which are well known as anti-inflammatory. Along with this, broccoli can also help people suffering from arthritis as broccoli contains sulforaphane, a chemical that blocks the enzymes that can cause joint destruction and hence lead to inflammation.


4. Powerful antioxidant: Broccoli contains antioxidants that can help the body in a variety of ways. Broccoli is deeply concentrated with vitamin C, making it great for immunity. Other than this, broccoli also contains flavonoids which help recycle the vitamin C efficiently. It is also enriched with carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene and other power packed antioxidants.


5. Bone health: Broccoli contains high levels of both calcium and vitamin K, both of which are important for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis. Along with calcium, broccoli is also full of other nutrients like magnesium, zinc and phosphorous. Because of these properties, broccoli is extremely suitable for children, elderly and lactating mothers.


6. Heart health: The anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane, one of the isothiocyanates (ITCs) in broccoli, may be able to prevent (or even reverse) some of the damage to blood vessel linings that can be caused by inflammation due to chronic blood sugar problems. Broccoli is great for heart health as it contains fibers, fatty acids and vitamins that help regulating blood pressure in the body. This also helps in reducing bad cholesterol, hence leading to a healthy heart. Broccoli helps protecting blood vessels from damaging as well.


7. Diet aid: Broccoli is a good carb and is high in fiber, which aids in digestion, prevents constipation, maintains low blood sugar, and curbs overeating. Along with this, broccoli is also great for weight loss because it is rich in fiber. It is an ideal green vegetable to include in your salads and completing your five coloured vegetables everyday. In addition to this, broccoli also contains proteins, making it suitable for vegetarians that are otherwise not able to complete their protein requirement.


8. Great for detoxification: Since broccoli is rich in fiber, it can help get rid of toxins through the digestive tract. Other than this, broccoli is also full of antioxidants that help in overall detoxification of the body. Broccoi includes special phytonutrients that help in the body’s detox process. This means that the body gets rids of unwanted contaminants. Broccoli also contains isothiocyanates, which help in the detox process at the genetic level.


9. Skin care: Skin care not only includes glow, but also its immunity. Since broccoli is a powerhouse of antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin C and minerals such copper and zinc, broccoli helps in maintaining a healthy skin. This means it also protects the skin from getting infections as well as keep the natural glow of your skin. Broccoli is full of vitamin K, amino acids and folates, making it ideal for maintaining healthy skin immunity.


10. Eye care: Broccoli contains beta-carotene, vitamin A, phosphorous and other vitamins such B complex, vitamin C and E. All these rich nutrients are great for eye health as these help in protecting the eyes against mascular degeneration, cataract and even repairs damage done by harmful radiations we go through by being constantly on our phones or being in front of a screen.


11. Anti-ageing: Since broccoli is enriched with vitamin C, which has numerous antioxidant properties, it is great for anti-ageing. This is because antioxidants help fight the free radicals responsible for ageing. These free radicals often damage the skin. Eating broccoli regularly helps in reducing fine lines, wrinkles, skin issues like acne and even pigmentation.


12. Prevents and fights pollution and toxins: Broccoli is a nutrient-rich vegetable with a number of helpful vitamins, minerals. What makes it an effective anti-pollution food is its ability to act down on certain pollutants. It's not the sprouts themselves but the components found in the stub which are good for the body. In fact, a study conducted in China found out that broccoli sprouts were particularly helpful in fighting and detoxing away the air pollutants from the root. When you eat broccoli, the phytochemical present in it, called glucoraphanin initiates a chemical reaction that attaches itself to the harmful benzene compound, breaks it down and recharges the body to excrete it faster, before it gets the time to do the damage on the cellular level. The same mechanism has also been found helpful to get rid of toxins associated with pollution and cigarette smoke. Hence, detoxifying the body by consuming a simple vegetable like fresh broccoli juice or smoothie as soon as you hit home can alleviate some of the health risks at the ground level.


13. May Aid In Hair Care: Nutrients, found in broccoli, like vitamins A and C might be great for keeping your hair shiny, thick, and healthy. These vitamins may also counter dry hair by regulating sebum production on the scalp to naturally moisturize hair leading to less brittle and fragile hair and reduces hair loss.

Uses

  • Broccoli heads are consumed after boiling or fresh in salads.

  • It can be processed for freezing and drying.

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