Growing Fall Broccoli

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No offense Mrs. Seinfeld, but my children like broccoli, and I don’t have to hide it!

 

They don’t just like broccoli, they LOVE broccoli. How much?

 

Miss Muffet giving her broccoli plants a hug.

 

A few weeks ago, I was really tired after a long day at work – I just didn’t feel like cooking that night. Since the drive-thru can’t be an option for us, I sucked it up and went out to the deep freeze. With a lift of the lid, I gazed down at my answer: frozen tater tots. I had picked up the package on a whim, after Grandmother Hubbard showed me that some of Ore-Ida’s products are gluten free. No prep… just throw ’em on a baking sheet. Don’t all kids love tater tots?

I entered the living room and announced the evening’s menu, expecting jubilant shouting and maybe even a little toddler dance.

“Oh, Ma!” said Miss Muffet. “Can’t we just have BROCCOLI or something like that?”

 

What mother wouldn’t cave to that request?

 

Later that evening, it was Bo Peep’s turn to share her “favorite thing of the day,” our family dinner ritual. Her answer: “Bwock-wee!

When children have a part in growing the family table, when their vegetables are fresh and tasty, they WANT to eat them.

 

Cutting Fall 2011 broccoli with Bo Peep.

 

Growing Fall Broccoli

Fall broccoli is the BEST broccoli you will ever grow for your family. Broccoli connoisseurs know this, but the home and garden centers around here apparently don’t. Come to think of it, most of the stores around here stop selling ANYTHING gardening related after Labor Day, much less broccoli starts. That is a shame, because many crops, like broccoli, are at their peak of perfection when grown in cold weather.

Not only does broccoli taste better when grown in cold temperatures, you will get more out of it. Broccoli, like all cruciferous vegetables, thrives in cool temperatures. Warm temperatures stress broccoli, telling the plant that it is time to move on. Since it can’t get up and go, it puts its energy into flowers and seed production – it bolts. The spring broccoli that I grow is always smaller than the fall. And it stands a good chance of bolting before a sizable head develops, such as when an unexpected early spring arrives (like this year).

Proud girls with extra-large fall broccoli heads.

 

I can also get successive cuttings from a broccoli plant grown in the fall. After the main head is cut, broccoli will develop several smaller side shoots that can be harvested a few weeks later. Broccoli planted in the spring doesn’t get the opportunity to do that, as the heat of summer shuts shuts it down.

Two nicely-sized side shoots developing after the main head was cut a little over 2 weeks ago.

 

Folks are always surprised to hear that I was cutting these extra broccoli shoots into late November last year… just a week before Thanksgiving. They ask, “Don’t you have to protect your plants?” Broccoli is extremely tolerant of cold temperatures. It will tolerate several hard frosts.

Broccoli leaves curl and become limp during frost (left), but perk right back up once the temps warm up.

 

Why else grow broccoli in the fall? They aren’t bothered nearly as much by pests. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, that bug populations should be at their peak when the broccoli starts go into the ground in mid-August, but I’ve never had issues with pests on broccoli in the fall, except for slugs (which stopped once our ducks arrived).

 

How to grow fall broccoli

I plant intensively, spacing plants about 18-24 inches apart in the beds. This allows me to pack a lot of plants in a small space.

Broccoli is one of those plants that you can plant deeply and it won’t hurt it. And you’ll want to, as the plants can become heavy and topple over if the main stem grows too long while in the starting container. Plant almost up to the first set of true leaves and your plants will stay upright.

These broccoli don’t flop into the path between beds, as they were planted deeply.

 

I like to grow broccoli under landscaping fabric. We’ve used both plastic and landscaping fabric as a weed barrier, and I’m incredibly fond of the latter. Plastic tends to radiate more heat above the barrier, which can be good in fall, but it also is completely waterproof. That means I have to do a LOT of extra watering. With landscaping fabric, though more expensive, I hardly need to water at all. This year, I planted broccoli immediately into the melon bed. Aside from watering at planting, I turned the soaker hose on just one time, and only as extra insurance during a dry spell.

Move over melons! Here comes broccoli!

 

 

Even if you’ve missed your window for planting fall broccoli this year, make plans for the next. You’ll likely need to start your own seeds next summer, as you can’t count on your local gardening center to supply you with starts. I’ll be posting again later about how you can start your broccoli from seed.

 

Bo Peep spontaneously munching on a head of broccoli before it is harvested.

Miss Muffet with some of last year’s broccoli harvest that is about to be blanched and frozen.

 

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