The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Bountiful Broccoli

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

I'm not sure how the current President Bush feels about broccoli. Many of us remember when his father declared his dislike for the often-unappreciated vegetable. I don't know of any official broccoli society. I've never seen any "I love broccoli bumper stickers."

However broccoli should be on all our menus. A member of the cabbage family and a close relative of cauliflower, broccoli packs more nutrients than any other vegetable. In addition, a 1/2-cup of cooked fresh broccoli contains only 23 calories.

Broccoli contains large amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are important antioxidants. Researchers have concluded that broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables should be included in the diet several times a week. Consuming foods high in antioxidants can reduce the risk of some forms of cancer and heart disease. In the United States, broccoli is more popular than its relatives, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Now that is a popularity contest!

Broccoli that has been stored too long or cooked too long can have a strong undesirable taste. Your best bet is to grow your own.

For great information about growing broccoli and many other vegetables, check out the book Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by Chuck Voigt. Also check out our website "Watch your Garden Grow" at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/veggies/

In his book, Voigt offers these tips to getting broccoli on every plate.

Like its relatives broccoli develops best during cool seasons of the year spring or fall. Plant broccoli in the garden as transplants as early as March 1 in our area. However it's not too late now. Transplants help to get the plants bearing well before hot weather and before infestation by caterpillars. Transplant young, vigorously growing plants. Plants that remain too long in seed flats may produce "button" heads soon after planting.

Set transplants slightly deeper than they were grown originally. Space plants one foot apart in all directions in beds.

Use starter fertilizer for transplants and side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown. Provide ample soil moisture, especially as the heads develop.

When broccoli plants of most varieties are properly grown and harvested, they can yield over an extended period. Side heads develop after the large, central head is removed. New heat tolerant varieties allow broccoli to be produced in all but the hottest parts of the season.

A few recommended varieties include:

  • Cruiser (58 days to harvest; uniform, high yield; tolerant of dry conditions)
  • Green Comet (55 days; early; heat tolerant)
  • Green Goliath (60 days; spring, summer or fall; tolerant of extremes)
  • Pinnacle (62 days; reliable producer)
  • Premium Crop (65 days highly tolerant of downy mildew)

The edible parts of broccoli are compact clusters of unopened flower buds and the attached portion of stem. The green buds develop first in one large central head and later in several smaller side shoots. Cut the central head with 5 to 6 inches of stem, after the head is fully developed, but before it begins to loosen and separate and the individual flowers start to open (show bright yellow). Removing the central head stimulates the side shoots to develop for later pickings. You usually can continue to harvest broccoli for several weeks.

Store the broccoli, unwashed, in loose or perforated plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for a short time.

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