Broccoli And Calabrese

Broccoli and calabrese should be grown in every vegetable patch. These are fantastic vegetables full of healthy compounds which we have often commented upon because of their nutritional impact. If however you fancy a change to the standard types of broccoli or calabrese, one of the finest types of broccoli to grow is ‘Early Purple Sprouting’ although the fine green heads of the other kinds are highly valued.

Broccoli or Calabrese is usually sown outdoors from late winter [early March] to mid-spring such as late May. Sow  thinly in a seed bed dedicated to the crop alone. Seeds sown as early as possible appear to produce the best plants we’ve noticed but a decent crop can be obtained with later sowings. We’ve noticed they almost leap out of the module once they’ve started growing. The seedlings must be allowed to grow on until they are large enough to be planted in their cropping positions, usually elsewhere in the garden.

Purple sprouting broccoli has fluffy purple heads which lend an Impressionist colour hue to the garden patch. When cooked they turn a delectable green and their glossiness on the dinner plate simply shouts good health. Another great feature of this vegetable is that it is best picked when the cold winter is upon us. It has a natural hardiness. Best served steamed or stir-fried to retain its crunch, than seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Another way to serve them is to again steam but simply serve in butter or just use raw as crudities.

Broccoli in a white cup with green handles. Green and white check dishcloth.
Broccoli prepared for cooking. Copyright: yelenayemchuk / 123RF Stock Photo

Sowing time: February – March onwards when sown indoors but if sown outdoors, then from March to June.

Harvest: July onwards for early sown varieties in the same year. We have found varieties are harvested after 12 to 16 weeks from sowing if done early enough. They can continue to be harvested right through to next March which is the latest.

Sowing Broccoli And Calabrese Seeds Outdoors

Seed needs to be sown thinly, about 1.5cm deep into a soil which has been tilled to a fine, crumbly texture. The soil should be fertile and well-drained. This will also have been watered previously with all weeds removed and once the seeds are sown, covered over. 

Plant seeds in rows, allowing between 30cm and 45cm between each seed. Make sure to cover with netting at all times to protect crops from birds especially pigeons or from cabbage white caterpillars.

Most seedlings appear between 2 and 3 weeks.

The ground needs to be kept well watered if the ground dries up. A watering can with a fine rose is ideal until the plants are fully established in the ground.

When large enough to handle, seedlings are transplanted usually when they are above 10cm tall and into soil 60cm apart at least. This is usually done about 5 weeks after sowing. They must be carefully handled using just the leaf and not the stem which could damage the young seedling. The seedlings are ‘laced’ in all directions, firmed and watered in well.

Sowing Broccoli And Calabrese Seeds Indoors

Seeds can also be sown in a propagator if late winter is really too harsh. When sowing indoors use a either a multi-purpose compost or John Innes No. 1 compost and sow about 0.5cm deep. In mild spells they will germinate on greenhouse staging or in  a propagating tray which has some under heat. This is watered beforehand and placed in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. The soil is kept moist and the seedlings transplanted to other trays at 5cm apart. Once they have sprouted, the seedlings should be large enough to handle. The young crops are accustomed to the outdoors before planting out in July or August.

Harvesting Broccoli And Calabrese

The shoots of sprouting broccoli are either cut or snapped off when 15 cm long from February to May. Some varieties are harvested as early as July from a very early indoor sowing but usually between September and October depending on their size. A lot of varieties can be left right through to the following year but the latest is usually the following March. Just depends on how big a head you want. 

For early flowering sprouting broccoli it is best to describe the heads as flowering shoots. Do pick before the flowers open.

Cut any main heads promptly and side shoots will then produce secondary and even tertiary pickings.

Do not remove the larger leaves as these will protect new growth.

Issues With Growing Broccoli

Magnesium Deficiency

As a broccoli plant grows, there may be times when you spot leaves that literally turn white if not yellow. This is often down to magnesium deficiency and especially when there is a lack of it in the soil. Now that seems unusual in gardens where manure and compost is added on a regular basis to feed plants. 

However, when soils are dry, compacted or waterlogged, magnesium deficiency suddenly becomes an issue. Raised beds also get very dry in the summer and home-made potting medium might also become liable to magnesium deficiency. We also know that using excess amounts of potassium fertilisers can induce this deficiency too. If you mistake leaves turning white due to lack of nitrogen say then it can make the situation worse by adding more of the high-potassium fertilizer.

The best way to deal with this is to spray the plant with Epsom salts which is magnesium sulphate. About 20g per litre will do. It should resolve the issue. Several applications will be needed. Also go sparingly on more high potassium feeds so as not to make the problem worse. It also helps to up the level of watering. It is also an issue with other plants like cabbages so the solution to this deficiency equally applies. I also use this approach with citrus fruit and the general yellowing that is seen in the leaves.

Cultivars Of Broccoli And Calabrese

cv. Ironman – reliable, producing dense, domed heads of blue-green flower buds. Holds well, re-sprouts vigorously and tastes great.

cv. Monciano – dense green heads and lots of tasty side shoots as usual but this one has good resistance to club root.

cv. Romanesco – (A variety with lime-green florets and what appears to be a fascinating fractal pattern. It looks like something from another world but in fact it was cultivated in Italy in the 1500s. Most people who enjoy Romanesco  think it tastes somewhere between a cauliflower and a broccoli. In truth it is a cauliflower ! It is certainly slightly sweeter and nuttier than other brassicas. Very popular with children and excellent when used raw in dips.

cv. Broccoli ‘Kabuki‘ – an early variety cropping 65 days after planting out. Plant 15-17cm apart for ‘baby veg’. Ideal for pots or small raised beds.

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