Frozen broccoli spears
from the supermarket have introduced this vegetable
into countless homes, but these green heads are
really calabrese, whereas the garden-grown variety
is usually purple sprouting broccoli. So there
is some confusion which is not helped by the catalogues
and textbooks which can’t seem to agree
on the correct names to use. Very simply, the
word ‘broccoli’ should be restricted
to the sprouting sorts which virtually all work
on the cut-and-come-again principle. The name
‘winter cauliflower’ should be used
for the heading types which form one large white
head in winter or spring. The broccolis are sown
in spring and planted out in summer and there
are three types – calabrese for harvesting
in autumn and purple or white for cutting in the
following spring. These purple and white types
are hardy, high-yielding and fill the gap between
the sprouts and the spring cabbages.
Expected germination time: 7-12 days
Approximate number per ounce: 8000
Expected yield per plant: 1 ½ lb (750g)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 4 years.
Approximate time between sowing and cutting: 12
weeks (Calabrese); 44 weeks (Purple and White
Ease of cultivation: Easier than cauliflower but
still not really easy – there is transplanting
to do and various troubles to watch out for.
· Broccoli, like other brassicas, can fail
in loose and starved soil. Ideally the ground
should be firm and rich in organic matter.
· Pick a reasonably sunny site for the
place where the plants will grow to maturity.
Dig in autumn – work in plenty of well-rotted
manure or compost if the soil is poor. Lime, if
necessary, in winter.
· In spring apply Growmore fertilizer –
rake in Bromophos if cabbage root fly is known
to be a problem. Do not fork over the surface
before planting the seedlings – tread down
gently, rake lightly and remove surface rubbish.
Sowing and Planting
Sow very thinly ½ in (1cm) deep in rows
that are 6in (15in) apart. Cover with soil.
· Thin the seedlings to prevent them from
becoming weak and spindly. They should be about
3in (7cm) apart in the rows.
· The seedlings are ready for transplanting
when they are 3in (7cm) high. Water the rows the
day before moving the transplants to their permanent
quarters. Plant firmly, setting the seedlings
about 1in (2.5cm) deeper than they were growing
in the seed bed. Leave 1 ½ ft (45cm) between
purple and white sprouting broccoli, 1ft (30cm)
between green sprouting broccoli. Water after
· The date you can expect to start cutting
depends on the variety and the weather. Early
Purple Sprouting will be ready for its first picking
in January if the winter is mild but mid spring
is the peak harvesting period for the purple and
· The green varieties will be ready for
cutting in autumn – choose Express Corona
or Green Comet if you are in a hurry. Cropping
will extend into winter if prolonged frosts do
Sowing time: Usually mid April to mid May; less
usually beginning of April to the end of May.
Planting time: Mid June to mid July; can extend
from beginning of June to end of July.
Cutting time: Early Varieties: February to the
end of March (can start mid January); Late Varieties:
Late March to early May – can extend to
late May; Green varieties: August to mid October
(Can last from late July to early November.)
Looking after the crop
· Hoe regularly and provide some means
of protection for the young plants against birds.
· Summer care consists of watering in dry
weather and applying a mulch to conserve moisture.
Occasional feeding with a liquid fertilizer will
improve the crop. Broccoli is a trouble-prone
crop so watch for pests. Spray with Crop Saver
if caterpillars appear.
· With the approach of winter draw up soil
around the stems and stake the plants if the site
is exposed. Always firm the stems if they are
loosened by wind or frost. Pigeons can be a menace
at this time of year – netting may be necessary.
· The time to cut is when the flower shoots
(‘spears’) are well formed but before
the small slower buds have opened. Once in flower
the spears are woody and tasteless.
· Cut or snap off the central spear first
– in a few varieties this will be a cauliflower-like
head. Side shoots will be produced and these should
be picked regularly, but never strip a plant completely.
· The spears are generally 4-6in (10-15cm)
long and cropping should continue for about 6
weeks. If you let any of them flower, however,
production will stop at an earlier stage.
Purple Sprouting varieties
This is the hardiest and the most popular broccoli
for growing at home. It is extremely useful for
heavy soils and cold areas where little else can
overwinter. The heads turn green when cooked.
There are three popular varieties – planting
all three will give you continuous cropping from
January until May.
Christmas Purple Sprouting: The first of the broccolis,
appearing in January under favourable conditions
and February in a normal season.
Early Purple Sprouting: The most popular variety
– ready for cutting in February or March.
Prolific and hardy – the one to choose if
you plant to grow only one sort of broccoli for
Late Purple Sprouting: Like the other purples,
winter-hardy and robust – plants grow about
3ft tall. The spears will not be ready for picking
Purple Sprouting: Sometimes the seed packet doesn’t
tell you whether it is ‘Early’ or
‘Late’. You will find that the spears
appear in March and April.
White Sprouting varieties
This group produces small cauliflower-like spears.
The varieties are less popular than the purple
sprouting sorts but some people prefer the flavour
and the white appearance of this crop. If you
propose to grow white sprouting broccoli then
the choice of variety is very simple – there
is just ‘Early’ and ‘Late’.
Early White Sprouting: The one to grow if you
want to cut the crop in March and Early April.
Late White Sprouting: Extends the harvesting period
for broccoli lovers – spears appear in April
and early May.
Calabrese or green sprouting broccoli is a useful
but much underrated vegetable. Unlike the purple
and white sprouting types, it produces a crop
of delicately-flavoured spears and before the
onset of winter. Some varieties produce a succession
of spears stretching from early autumn until the
first frosts – if you want plants which
bear a single large head in August then choose
Express Corona: An F1 hybrid – one of the
earliest of all the green sprouting types. About
45 days after planting out the central head is
ready for cutting – side shoots then freely
develop to give a succession of succulent spears.
Green Comet: Another F1 hybrid and another early
cropper. Unlike Express Corona, the central head
is exceptionally large – up to 7in (17cm)
across and weighing about 1lb (500g). There is,
however, little spear production after the main
head has been cut.
Italian Sprouting: This is the basic variety which
has kept its place in some catalogues despite
the appearance of modern F1 hybrids. It has an
excellent reputation for flavour and a long cropping
Corvet: An F1 hybrid which matures in about 60
days after transplanting. It gives you the best
of both worlds – the primary head is large
and firm, but after its removal there is a succession
of secondary spears.
Romanesco: Not just another variety – it
has two distinctive features. Romanesco is a late
cropper, its heads appearing in November, and
the flavour is outstanding. The texture is very
soft and the lime-green spears should be steamed
and served like asparagus.
El Centro: This maincrop variety still keeps its
place in a few catalogues, although it does not
have the cropping capacity of the F1 hybrids not
the flavour of the old favourite Italian Sprouting.
Perennial broccoli is a tall-growing vegetable
– leave about 3ft (90cm) between the plants.
In spring or early summer about 8 small and pale
green heads are produced, each one looking like
a small cauliflower. Grow the variety Nine Star
Perennial – plant it against a fence and
fork in a general-purpose fertilizer each spring.
Apply a mulch in early summer, never let the flower
buds open and you will obtain heads year after