I grew broccoli successfully this year–one of the goals I set for myself. Previously, I’d only tried growing broccoli in the fall, and never got it big enough to produce heads before winter set in.
This year, I grew two varieties–both from direct-sowing in the garden and from transplants I started in my house. Two two varieties were both hybrids: Packman (50 days) and Gypsy (58 days). The days to maturity are from transplant, not direct seeding.
What I found in my garden is that transplanting is a lot better method. Not only did I get the spacing better on the transplants, but it was easier to protect them from insects so that I could maintain the plants at their proper spacing. I row-covered the direct-seeded row, but even with the row cover, there was some insect damage, so I had to be careful not to thin them too much right away for fear of losing plants.
The transplants I put about 18″ apart. I did lose one plant to deer damage, but I had a couple leftovers waiting in the wings, so I was able to fill in the gap. I didn’t row cover them, but I did dust them with Diatect V, an organic diatomaceous earth/pyrethrin blend.
The Packman broccoli was the clear winner–not just because it was earlier, but because it has set lots and lots of side-shoots. I delivered broccoli twice to my CSA members, and the second time was a mix of primary heads from the direct-seeded row (which weren’t as big, but that is probably due to closer spacing) and side-shoots from the transplant row.
The transplanted Packman has produced tons of side-shoots on the plants and still is. I harvest a half gallon bag-full every week, and have frozen a few bags of broccoli for winter use and sold the rest at market. Some of those side-shoots measure two inches across, though most are smaller.
I stopped dusting the plants (and watering them!) after I harvested the main heads, but they’re still pumping out the side-shoots. There’s a fair amount of bug damage on the leaves of the plants now, but they don’t seem to be attacking the heads. The plants are big and healthy enough that the bugs aren’t compromising their health.
I thought perhaps that most people don’t grow broccoli in their home gardens because the plants take up too much space and only produce one big head, but from this spring’s sowing, I have had a constant (trickling) supply of broccoli all summer after the initial harvest–though it does take a bit after you harvest the main head for the plant to recover and produce the side-shoots. I do not know how much longer they’ll last, but the plants show no signs of stopping.
Now that I’ve had a successful season with the broccoli, I’ll add it to my permanent line-up of brassicas for subsequent seasons. Spring sowing seems to be key, and a good, fertile soil enriched with composted manure. A little bit of dappled shade in the heat of the afternoon doesn’t hurt, either.