The Q&A Archives: Growing Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts

Question: What is the proper method for broccolli cultivation. Last year all I got was a big, albeit attractive flower. Is this also the same for brussel sprouts?

Answer: Broccoli is a "cool-season" plant, which means it prefers to grow in cool temperatures. When it's too hot or the plants are otherwise under stress, they "bolt", (they blossom and set seed). Broccoli is generally started from seed under lights indoors, and planted into the garden a couple of weeks before the last frost date (around the end of April in your area). Broccoli prefers a rich, moist, well-drained soil in full sun, and will fare best if the soil is mulched with grass clippings or straw.

At this point, you can plant seeds for a fall harvest of broccoli. Follow the planting instructions on the seed packet, either planting seed in a prepared seedbed in the garden, or indoors under growlights. If you grow them in the garden, cover the bed with shade cloth until daytime temperatures drop out of the nineties, and keep the soil evenly moist. If you start them indoors, harden off your plants by setting them outside each day for a week, gradually increasing amount of time and exposure to sun and wind each day. After a week or so of this treatment, your plants should be acclimated to the outdoors and ready to be planted. Set the transplants in the soil up to the first set of "true" leaves (the very first leaves a plant forms are the seed leaves -- the subsequent leaves are true leaves).

When the central head is about 1" across, spread some compost or rotted manure at the base of the plants to supply
some nutrients. Many types of broccoli send out sideshoots
after the central head is cut, so cut close to where the florets branch to leave plenty of stalk to form side shoots. Don't pull up the plants until these smaller heads have been harvested.

Brussels Sprouts are a cool-season cousin of broccoli. They have a very long growing season, though, so you can only plant one crop per year. Otherwise, the culture is similar. When harvesting, you should remove heads from the bottom up, and detaching them is easier if you pick off the leaf below the sprout with a twisting motion. It helps the plant develop good sized brussel sprouts to "top off" the plant. In mid August, when the lowest sprouts begin to swell, remove the terminal growth point (the top two to three inches of the plant, where new leaves emerge). Instead of continuing to elongate, forming more leaves and sprouts that don't have time to mature before hard frost, the plant will divert energy to the sprouts that have already formed. You can help sprouts get bigger by stripping the leaves along the stem when the sprouts have reached one half their desired size (1/2 diameter) and after those leaves begin to fade and yellow, late in the season. The leaves have outlived their usefulness by then and are shading the green
leaves of the young sprout. Best of luck!

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