Growing Organic Broccoli

Broccoli is a hardy cool weather crop. When properly grown it can yield for an extended period. After the large central head is harvested small side heads develop. Heat tolerant varieties allow broccoli to be grown in all but the hottest parts of the season. When cooler temperatures return in the fall plants will begin to produce more side heads. You might also want to try a fall crop by starting seeds in midsummer, or buying transplants. Broccoli is susceptible to cold injury especially when the plants are small and tender. The optimum time for planting is with day temperature between 60-70°F and night temperatures between 50-60°F. Temperatures below 32°F for periods of 36 hours have killed broccoli plants, and extended periods in the 30’s have stunted the plants. Exposure of transplants to low temperatures may also cause premature bolting.

Choose the right variety for your area.
Plant as early in the spring as possible to avoid some insect problems. I like to start my own seeds inside about five weeks before planting. As planting day approaches, give them a chance to develop defenses by moving them outdoors for a few hours in the afternoon. Gradually increase the time they spend in the open air, until they are ready to face everything Mother Nature can throw at them. If you buy transplants, pick them up early in the season. Plants that sit around the nursery several weeks become root bound and stunted, giving you a smaller less productive plant.

Plant transplants 18 to 24 inches apart.Broccoli plants grow upright, often reaching a height of 2 1/2 feet.

I always place a protective cage around the transplants to keep rabbits from eating the tender young leaves, and other animals from disturbing the small plants. You should begin harvesting broccoli about two months after transplanting.

Pests Aphids – Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.

Cabbage worms — Three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads of cabbage and related cole crops. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly is seen during the day hovering over plants in the garden. Cabbage loopers (“measuring worms”) are smooth, light green caterpillars. The cabbage looper crawls by doubling up (to form a loop) and then moving the front of its body forward. The moth is brown and is most active at night. Diamondback worms are small, pale, green caterpillars that are pointed on both ends. The moth is gray, with diamond-shaped markings when the wings are closed. The damage caused by diamondback larvae looks like shot holes in the leaf.

The larval or worm stages of these insects cause damage by eating holes in the leaves and cabbage head. The adult moths or butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves but otherwise do not damage the plants. The worms are not easy to see because they are fairly small and blend with the cabbage leaves. Cabbage worms are quite destructive and can ruin the crop if not controlled. They are even worse in fall plantings than in spring gardens because the population has had several months to increase. About the time of the first frost in the fall, moth and caterpillar numbers finally begin to decline drastically. General predators that feed on cabbageworms as well as other pests are ground beetles, true bugs, syrphid fly larvae, spiders, lacewings, spined soldier beetles, yellowjackets, and paper wasps.

Non chemical: Wash off aphids with a steady stream of water. Avoid heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer which can encourage succulent plant growth. Natural predators such as lady beetles and aphis lions feed on aphids but may not always provide adequate control.

Store the broccoli in loose or perforated plastic bags
 in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Broccoli left unrefrigerated quickly becomes fibrous and woody. Wet broccoli quickly becomes limp and moldy in the refrigerator—so wash it just before using. Store fresh broccoli in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Old broccoli may look fine, but it develops strong undesirable flavors. It tastes best and is highest in nutritional value when storage time is brief.The edible part of broccoli are compact clusters of unopened flower buds and the attached portion of stem. Harvest the central head when the individual florets begin to enlarge and develop and before flowering begins. Size varies with variety, growing conditions and season of growth; but central heads should grow to be 4 to 6 inches in diameter, or even larger. Late side shoots may reach only 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

Wash broccoli under cool running water. Never allow it to sit in water as it will lose water soluble nutrients. Fresh broccoli is delicious raw or cooked. Peeling stems with vegetable peeler improves taste, the skin of stem tastes strong and bitter. Cut the florets into uniform pieces for even cooking. Overcooked broccoli develops a strong sulfur odor. Steam broccoli for 3-4 minutes or simmer in about one inch of boiling water for the same amount of time or less. Cooked broccoli should be bright green and tender-crisp. Overcooked broccoli turns dark green and suffers nutrient loss, especially vitamin C.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked fresh broccoli)

Calories 23
Dietary fiber 2.4 grams
Protein 2.3 grams
Carbohydrates 4.3 mg
Beta carotene
Vitamin C 49 mg
Folic Acid 53.3 nanograms
Calcium 89 mg
Iron 0.9 mg

Stay out of the garden when the plants are wet to prevent spreading diseases