Unlike summer vegetables that need heat to thrive, broccoli does better in nippy weather.
Now through February is the best time to plant broccoli here, says Jim Kitano, manager of Kitano's Garden Center in La Palma. "During the late fall and winter months, broccoli grows quickly and doesn't tend to bolt," he says.
The edible part on broccoli is the flower head and stem. When the weather is warm, these heads flower, which is known as bolting. When the broccoli flowers, it becomes bitter and tough. The trick is to harvest the broccoli just before it flowers, which is much easier to do in cool weather.
Broccoli is easy to grow, say experts. It is a member of the mustard family and is related to vegetables such as kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Although the vegetable has been around for centuries, it wasn't until 30 years ago that broccoli became popular in the United States, Kitano says.
Most nurseries should have plenty of broccoli in stock now. It comes in six-packs and can be easily grown from seed. Kitano suggests keeping the following growing and harvesting tips in mind:
* When possible, choose broccoli plants that are no taller than two inches high, which means they are young and strong.
* Plant in a full sun location.
* Before planting, amend the soil with an organic vegetable planting mix at a rate of 2 cubic feet for every 50 square feet.
* Plant broccoli at the same level as it was planted in the nursery container.
* Broccoli can be planted by seed through December. Start it in pots and replant the seedlings when they are about 2 inches high.
* If you have limited space, containerize. Broccoli often does better in containers because its roots don't have to fight clay soil, and the resulting plants are healthier. You can use a 20- to 24-inch pot for six to eight broccoli plants.
* Stagger planting every two weeks and you'll have a continuous supply.
* Keep soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Because these plants are shallow rooted, it's important to check them on warm days, as they don't withstand periods of dryness.
* Fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer according to package directions. Broccoli doesn't require a lot of fertilizer. One to two feedings before flower heads start to form is enough.
* Keep an eye out for pests. White cabbage moths are attracted to broccoli, where they will lay eggs that look like small, fine grains of white rice. These eggs produce green worms that will eat foliage quickly. Hand-pick and destroy worms and treat with Bacillus thuringiensi, a form of organic bacterial pest control. Broccoli also attracts aphids, which can be killed with insecticidal soap.
* Harvest the central head of broccoli when it is tight and dark green and before yellow flowers start to form. Side stalks will also produce smaller clusters that can be cut and eaten.
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NOVEMBER PLANTING LIST
November is the last busy month in the garden before early spring. Although some days are chilly and overcast, many are warm, sunny and perfect for gardening. This is a good month to clean up the garden and add collected debris to the compost pile. A wide variety of cool-season vegetables and flowers thrive in November weather, including the following:
FLOWERS from seed or starter plants.
Crocus (pre-chilled 8 weeks)
Hyacinth (pre-chilled 8 weeks)
Tulip (pre-chilled 8 weeks)