By Jennifer Olvera, Garden Guides Contributor
Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family. It has plentiful flower heads that, while frequently green in color, also can be found in purple and orange varieties. The tree-like flowers, which are surrounded by leaves, sprout from a thick, edible stalk. Broccoli is most closely related to cauliflower. Its ancestor, wild cabbage, hails from the north and west Mediterranean coasts and was first brought to the States by the Italians.
Broccoli grows to 48 inches and has a branching habit. The central stalk bears a cluster of green flower buds that may reach 6 inches in diameter. When the central cluster is removed, side branches may produce smaller clusters.
Broccoli itself offers a range of textures,its floret has a flower-like mouthfeel, while its stalk is crunchy.
Select a site that receives full sun. To grow broccoli successfully, the pH of soil should be between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. Turn the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Mix a slow-acting granular fertilizer into the soil when you prepare the planting area to provide continuous, consistent nutrition for the duration of the growing period. Broccoli needs cool soil to grow, so add a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, such as chopped leaves, hay or straw, around and between plants.
Broccoli contains sulforaphane and indoles, which have significant anti-cancer benefits.
Certain cultivars continue producing side shoots after harvesting as long as a few leaves are left on the plant.
Choosing a Variety
Generally speaking, hybrid broccoli varieties provide the best production and better withstand hot weather. It's a good idea to plant more than one variety at a time so broccoli production is ongoing. Look for healthy plants with evenly green leaves.
Hardened-off transplants can go out 2 to 4 weeks before the average date of the last frost and will tolerate temperatures into the lower 20s.
Dig a hole as deep as the container and slightly wider. Remove pot, and break up roots if bound. Place the plant in the hole, and add organic matter to the planting hole. Refill hole. Mulch around but not on top of the plant with 3 inches of organic compost.
Broccoli plants should be planted 18 inches apart in rows, and there should be 24 inches between rows.
Broccoli plants are heavy feeders. Apply 1 to 2 pounds of an all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20) per 100 feet of row. Side-dress plants 3 weeks later with ammonium sulfate at rate of 1/2 cup per 10 feet of row. Side-dress broccoli again at the time of first harvest to encourage side shoot development.
Water well, but do not allow the soil to become waterlogged. Broccoli, on average, needs 1 to 11/2
inches of water or rain per week, so make up the difference during times of drought.
Do not plant broccoli in the same place in the garden 2 years in a row.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvest the center green flower bud cluster of broccoli while the buds remain tight and before yellow petals appear. Cut the central stem 5 to 6 inches below the head.
Broccoli clusters should be compact, uniformly colored and flower-free. Blossoming means broccoli is over-matured. Leaves should be vibrant and not wilted. Broccoli is very perishable and should be stored in an open plastic bag in the crisper of a refrigerator where it will keep for a week. Do not wash broccoli before refrigerating.
Mary Ann's Mace and Oregano Broccoli