I live in zone five (if you don't know about garden zones, google it. It tells you what time of year to plant what plants. It also lets you know what plants will survive where you live. Like I can't grow pomegranates here :( = sad.) For me this means that my time to plant really sensitive plants, like tomatoes, is around mid May. Many plants are more hardy than tomatoes. Some plants can take a great deal of cold. I have spinach that is still growing in my garden that I planted last year. Broccoli is one of those plants that likes a little cold.
Today I planted 12 broccoli plants and it is April 6th. We had a high of 61 degrees today - and broccoli don't care. (Like honey badger.) Broccoli actually likes a little cold.
|One year I used cardboard as weed mat|
This year I am dealing with a new problem. I am waiting for Josh to have enough time off to build me a chicken tractor (a post for another day). This means that my chickens are free ranging right now. Which also means that they can put a pretty good hurting on plants if they decide they want too. I usually lock them up by now, but they are just so happy free ranging that I don't have the heart to lock them up. My other problem is called - Augustus Walter Schaefer. A seven month old Great Pyrenees is a peaceful natured teenager, but he is still a teenager, and his pure mass can put an XL hurting on things. I am also dealing with an old problem, that I have dealt with before - the dreaded super crazy toddler. No fungus, disease, dog, goat, or chicken can destroy a garden like a toddler boy.
My little broccoli babies looked very fragile when I planted them with all the risk factors around them. Since nothing else is planted right now I took all my old tomato cages and wrapped them in chicken wire scraps I had laying around. I also placed sticks around them. This makes it too much hassle to bother with for the chickens. It makes them uncomfortable to lay on or dig in for the dogs. The toddler issue needs razor wire and electricity, but I am not willing to go that far. Broccoli grows pretty fast and one it gets about two feet tall it is practically infallible. I had to have Josh rip them out at the end of last year, because I couldn't even up-root them, they where so well anchored by a great root system.
|Center stock coming up|
Here is where people get the most confused by broccoli - you get a TON of broccoli off each plant if you give them a few minutes of your time ever 5 days or so. The first floret that broccoli sends up is right in the center and is usually very large. You know when to cut it off when it looks like the stuff you get in the grocery store. If you start to see any hint of yellow color, CUT it right away. Yellow = getting ready to send up flowers = tastes bitter.
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Once you have cut off that first central big floret, the fun is just starting. Depending on the amount of water and sun, you will need to spend about two minutes every 4-6 days trimming your new smaller florets. They will pop up from side sprouts of the central stalk and will not be as impressive or large as that central floret. BUT - they are still just as tasty and full of goodness. If you keep trimming these side shoots before they turn yellow you can harvest from the same plant for months. If you go away from two weeks, you may come back to some tall pretty yellow flowers growing out of your broccoli plant. At that point you can enjoy the yellow flowers (which really are pretty) or rip the plant out - but you really will not like how bitter the broccoli tastes after that. If you have just a few tiny yellow flowers thinking about being seen, just keep cutting and eating. At some point the summer gets so hot that your broccoli starts sending up yellow flowers very fast. Don't feel like you failed! Enjoy what you got from that plant and move on.
I planted 18 plants last year and still have broccoli in my freezer left over. This year I planted 12 plants, which I think should be just about right for my family of 6. I taught my kids how to harvest the broccoli last year and they pretty much did it all them selves.
Since broccoli has such a strong central stalk going into the ground I like to put weed mat or cardboard down and plant the broccoli directly into that. Then I put grass clippings over that weed mat to hold in moisture. I have often thought about planting spinach below the broccoli to let the broccoli shade the spinach. I may try that this year, but you couldn't do this with weed mat down.