Broccoli is a very useful vegetable because it is a winter crop, and tasty, new spears (often called cut and come again) will keep on growing if you cut the shoots regularly.
In this article we will focus on growing broccoli for harvesting in the winter.
A Variety We Recommend
Broccoli Purple Sprouting – this is one of the very earliest varieties, harvesting can begin from February until late spring. This variety is especially useful as you can harvest when no other crops are growing in the garden. Height: 90cm (35”). Spread: 60cm (24”).
Sowing Your Seeds
Sow your seed in April, in trays of seed compost or straight into the ground. If sowing them straight into the ground, you have the choice of leaving the seedlings to mature where they are, or you can transplant them from a temporary seed bed to their final position.
Transplanting them is better, because you’ll be able to set the roots of the seedlings slightly deeper into the soil, giving them stronger roots and more resistance to the wind.
Whichever way you choose, start to thin them out as they appear, otherwise they’ll become weak and leggy.
Transplant your seedlings to their final positions when they have four or five leaves. Sprouting broccoli like a sunny, sheltered position. Avoid sites that are low lying or those that can get waterlogged in the winter.
You’ll need a good, fertile soil to get a decent crop, so dig in some manure in advance, or use an area that has been well-manured for a previous crop. A firm soil, erring on the side of heavy, is better than a light, sandy soil.
Make sure you transplant the seedlings with a good-sized ball of soil around the roots. If the soil is dry, dig a hole for each plant and flood it with water before you transplant them. Alternatively, a showery day is a good day as far as transplanting is concerned (but a bit more uncomfortable for you). You’re aiming for a row of plants that are about 2 feet away from each other, in rows that are 2 feet apart.
Caring For Your Broccoli Plants
Keep your plants well-watered and free of weeds as they start to grow. You could add a mulch (a covering of grass cuttings, for example) around the base of each plant to make life easier for yourself.
Don’t be tempted to add extra food to the soil at this stage, as it will lead to soft and leggy growth. In the autumn, earth up around the stems, packing extra soil gently around the base of the plants to a height of 4 inches. This will give the plants more stability if it gets windy and will also help protect against frosts.
Harvesting Your Winter Crop
Your crop will be ready in January or February. Cut the spears (otherwise called curds or flower buds) when they are about three inches long and before the yellow flowers open. If you let them flower, the plants will stop producing. Cut the central, larger spear first and then pick the smaller, side shoots on a regular basis. Don’t pick all the spears from a single plant at once – cut from across your crop to give plants time to recover and grow more.