All About Broccoli

Winter time is broccoli season across the country but our milder temperatures allows us to have a longer harvest period. California alone is responsible for 90% of the United States’ broccoli production [source]

Broccoli is a member of the mustard family and one of the many brassicas we provide to Learning Garden schools. You can read our post on kale and other brassicas here. Unlike other brassicas, broccoli is a relative new comer; it was not commercially available until the 1920s and didn’t grow in popularity until after WWII [source]. Recently, broccoli consumption has gone up from 5.9 lbs per person/year in 2000 to 7.1 lbs per person/year [source].

Growing

  • Botanical name: Brassica oleracea var. italica
  • Spacing: 18″ apart
  • Ideal temperature: 40-75°F
  • Days to maturity from seedling: 50 – 100 days
  • Edible parts: buds, stem, flowers, leaves

Pest Management

Broccoli, like other brassicas, can be a target for insect pests and disease. In Learning Gardens across Los Angeles County we often find the same culprits:

  • aphids: small, soft-bodied insects found in large concentrations
    • Recommendation: DIY insecticidal soap. Put 2 tablespoons of dish soap per gallon of water in a spray bottle. Spray aphids and wipe them off. Avoid using on days where the temperature rises over 90°F.
  • assorted caterpillars, including but not exclusively
    • cabbage loopers: small green caterpillar that moves by arching or “looping” it’s back
    • armyworms: small green caterpillars that tend to congregate together (like an army)
    • cabbageworms: fuzzy worms
    • Recommendation:
  • powdery mildew: white fungi, looks like leaves have baby powder
    • Recommendation: use milk/water mixture on leaves. Mix 60% water with 40% milk and spray on leaves. Works best as a preventative.

We have additional recommendations on our Fall Workshop Resources blog post!

All LA-region Learning Garden received a pollinator and beneficial insect attractant flower mix. We recommend planting these flowers as a first line of defense against insect pests. Some of them grow year-round so keep them growing as long as you can! Additionally, you can practice crop rotation and avoid planting related crops in problems beds. You can read more about crop rotation by reading our our “Avoid pests and disease in L.A. Learning Gardens” blog post

Harvesting & Storing

When we get broccoli at the supermarket we are getting the tops of broccoli that contain immature, unopened flower buds. Harvest broccoli when buds are firm and still closed. Use shears to cut 6-8 of stem below the buds. Leave remaining broccoli plant growing and it will develop smaller broccoli heads throughout the season.

If buds have started to open and flower, taste the buds. If they are bitter, discard top. You can still harvest the stems and opened, yellow flowers. After blooming, stems become woody and difficult to eat but you can use a vegetable peeler and remove the outer layers. The inside should still be tender. Blooming broccoli flowers (not dried or soon to be dead flowers) can be eaten raw or cooked and taste like a mild broccoli. Some high end restaurants use these in salads!

Broccoli leaves are also edible. You can pick a few leaves while the broccoli is growing and use them like collards or other tough green. You can harvest more leaves as the season progresses. Try to pick leaves before broccoli blossoms appear as they can alter the taste.

Fun Fact: all commercial broccoli is hand-picked! [source]

Store broccoli by placing it in a refrigerator. Avoid washing it until ready for use. Revive limp broccoli by placing it in an ice bath, dry, and store/use. Learn more about food storage at savethefood.org

Resources