This weekend I will be starting my broccoli seeds indoors. Like a baseball fan who gets excited to hear when pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training, I get excited when I see plant varieties that are ready to start indoors pop up on my Droid smartphone calendar. Of course on my calendar it shows me when to start them indoors and then when to move them to the outdoors. We’ll save how to do that for a future article and podcast. For now let’s concentrate on growing broccoli in the home vegetable garden.
Although broccoli seeds germinate best at soil temperatures in the eighty degree Fahrenheit range (twenty-seven degrees Celsius), they grow best in cooler temperatures where the soil temperature is sixty to sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (sixteen to eighteen degrees Celsius). This makes broccoli a perfect candidate to start indoors, and then move outdoors while the temperatures may be a bit cooler.
You will need to check a frost zone map for your area to find out when the last frost is estimated. You can get a free frost zone map from our website by clicking the “downloads” tab or obtain one from the USDA.gov website. From that date subtract six to eight weeks, and get your seeds going indoors. For best results, use a humidity dome (or some other similar structure) to create a constant warm temperature for the seeds to germinate.
Keep in mind broccoli loves nitrogen. Hopefully you have been preparing the spot where your broccoli will go with heavy doses of compost. This will give your broccoli the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive.
When planting your broccoli seeds make sure they are not planted any deeper than a quarter of an inch. Any deeper and the seeds simply won’t generate enough energy to push through the soil. Under optimal conditions broccoli seeds can germinate in as little as four days, however the standard is anywhere from seven to ten.
When your broccoli is ready to be moved to the outside give them plenty of room to grow and give their roots ample room to expand. Sixteen inches apart should be the minimum, but twenty-four inches would be ideal. You can also stagger the planting between rows to maximize space.
Many varieties of broccoli will tolerate light shade but do best in full sun. So if possible grow them in an area that receives a full day’s worth of the sun’s golden rays and give your plants an even, moderate watering every other day. Invest in a water tester. For a few bucks you can get an accurate reading as to when it is time to water your plants.
It is time to harvest your broccoli when the head is dark green. Simply use a knife to cut off the head of the broccoli. After the main head has been harvested, broccoli will still produce for a few more weeks. So keep an eye on it. If you see any signs of yellow on the heads that means that the plant has been over ripened (so to speak).
As a side note of some additional information for advanced home vegetable gardeners out there, broccoli loves the soil’s pH to be between 6.5 and 7.5, rotates well with pretty much anything except members of the cabbage family, and companions well with many varieties of beans, beets, carrots, celery and tomatoes.
About the Author
Mike Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, who operates the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook and the widely popular Seeds of the Month Club.