Hello, Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners! What a beautiful week of sweetness for mid-August. I stopped by a local farm stand this week loaded with fresh tomatoes and peppers. One of my favorite dishes for the summer is Pasta Salad with Fresh Tomatoes and Garden Basil. Don’t let summer pass without eating a homemade bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea L.) is a great addition for the fall garden. Although former US President George HW Bush did not enjoy eating his broccoli, it has become a very popular vegetable in recent history. Per capita consumption of broccoli in the United States has increased nearly 50% since the 1990s.
It is a nutrient-dense cool-season vegetable that can be grown throughout West Virginia. Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family and is botanically related to other popular garden vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi and kale.
Broccoli likes cooler weather, so it grows best when average daily temperatures range from 65 to 75 degrees F. In most parts of the Mountain State, it’s a great fall crop. If planted too late in the spring, it will bolt or flower head due to the summer heat. However, new heat-tolerant varieties allow broccoli to be produced in all but the hottest parts of the season. “Imperial,” “Gypsy” and “Green Magic” are recommended heat-tolerant varieties.
Eating broccoli, especially fresh from the garden, has many health benefits. Broccoli is rich in essential vitamins and minerals and a good source of fiber. Plus, a cup of cooked broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange, is a good source of beta-carotene, and low in calories. Research has shown that broccoli contains sulfur compounds (found in cruciferous vegetables) and other phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties
Broccoli has been considered a very valuable food by Italians since the Roman Empire. When first introduced to England in the mid-eighteenth century, broccoli was called “Italian asparagus.” Its English name, broccoli, is derived from the Italian word broccolo, which means “the flowery crest of a cabbage,” and the Latin bracchium meaning arm, branch or shoot.
Many different varieties of broccoli are available for home garden and commercial production. Broccoli will mature in about 55 to 70 days depending on the variety. “Green Comet” “Gypsy” and “Emerald Crown” are some recommended varieties. Good broccoli varieties will have tight buds with a domed head and grow well under heat stress. For more information on variety selection and advice on growing broccoli, see the WVU Extension Fact Sheet “Growing broccoli for beginners.”
Choose a fertile, well-drained area for the broccoli. It thrives in soft soil with a pH of around 6.5. Fall broccoli can follow early tomatoes or cucumbers in the garden and mulching with straw or newspaper can help lower soil temperature and increase soil moisture which will improve growth and crop yield.
Broccoli is a big eater. If a soil test has not been done, a general fertilizer recommendation would be to apply 5-10-10 to 3 pounds per 100 square feet before planting. Nitrogen is important for broccoli to produce a high quality product. Train the plants about three to four weeks after transplanting.
Broccoli can be sown directly, but buying transplants is highly recommended. It may be necessary to purchase seed of an improved variety of your choice. Start the seeds about six weeks before putting them in the garden. Transplants are recommended to give the best start to spring planting to beat the heat. Be careful to select heat-resistant varieties for spring sowing. Fall broccoli crops should be transplanted from mid-July to September.
Many of our cool crops are better suited for fall planting as they thrive in cooler weather and insect and weed pressure is not as great. Place broccoli plants 12 to 18 inches apart in the row, with single rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Alternatively, plants can be grown in double rows on a raised bed with 4 to 5 foot centers with rows 18 inches apart. When planting broccoli in the summer for the fall harvest, transplant it in the late afternoon to create a less stressful environment for stand establishment.
A major pest for broccoli are cabbage worms. These insects feed on the leaves and tops of broccoli. The imported cabbageworm is the caterpillar of one of the most common butterflies in the northeast, the cabbage white butterfly. Another type of cabbage worm is the cabbage looper, which looks like a caterpillar and is the larva of a mottled grey-brown moth.
Crop rotation is always recommended, but another method of preventing these pests is to exclude them from the garden. Protect plants from egg-laying adults by using floating covers or covering individual plants with fine-mesh netting. Picking insects from plants by hand should be effective for small plantings. Be sure to remove all plants at the end of the season. Research suggests that cabbage worm eggs can overwinter on debris left in the garden.
Harvest broccoli before the flowers open while the floret is still in a tight green head with about 5 inches of stem. If the flowers open, it’s too late. When the terminal head of broccoli is removed, additional smaller heads form as the side shoots grow, increasing yield.
Harvest broccoli heads with a sharp knife to limit bruising of the stem and extend shelf life. To reduce the effects of field heat, broccoli should be harvested early in the morning and refrigerated. Broccoli will last up to two weeks in breathable plastic bags or containers in the refrigerator
Broccoli should be cooked as soon as possible after cutting to retain maximum vitamin C and flavor. Split the stalk four ways to help it cook faster. When cooking, use a small amount of boiling salted water in a covered pan. Broccoli is also an excellent candidate for steaming, which is the cooking method that best retains the plant’s nutrients.
Contact me at Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or email me at [email protected] with questions. Good luck and happy gardening!