Top Tips for Growing Broccoli

Broccoli is among the first spring crops we begin tucking into trays indoors. It’s got a lot going for it, too. Broccoli is cold-hardy, packed with vitamins, and edible in its entirety, including the leaves, stem, and flower head. It’s also a simple crop to start from seed; no scarification, stratification, or heat mats are needed. Broccoli is a low-maintenance seedling. Like all crops, broccoli isn’t without its growing challenges. To ensure you have success growing broccoli this season, follow these steps and tips!

When to Sow Broccoli Indoors

For these first spring plantings, you’ll want to know your estimated last frost date. We like to have transplants ready to go about one month before our last frost, so we start broccoli seedlings indoors about 4 to 5 weeks before that. Generally, we’re starting broccoli indoors between January 31st and May 31st.

When to Transplant Broccoli

As mentioned above, you can start transplanting broccoli out about one month before your last estimated frost date. Generally, we’re setting out broccoli plants between March 15th and July 15th, with the later dates intended for fall harvest. 

While broccoli is cold-hardy, you do want to avoid very low temperatures. If seedlings experience 20° F or lower, they may “button up” and only make tiny heads. This is because the plants will think that they’ve gone through a winter and that it’s time to flower.

When transplanting, give your broccoli adequate space. Usually, rows 12 to 16 inches apart is a good spacing for broccoli. 

Direct Sowing Broccoli

Many people choose to transplant broccoli as it can help plants reach maturity before the weather gets hot. However, you can also direct sow broccoli seeds. We like to direct sow broccoli from about March 10th through July 1st.

Check out our tips for direct sowing in hot weather.

Brassica Seedlings
Brassica Seedlings

Tips for Growing Broccoli

Broccoli isn’t high maintenance, but like any crop, it thrives with a bit of attention. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your broccoli produces well.

Mulch Deeply

Broccoli produces best when the soil is kept cool, moist, and weed-free. A deep layer of mulch, particularly in the warmer months, can make a big difference in broccoli plantings. 

Water Consistently

Again, broccoli will only produce nice heads if it has enough moisture. Consistent watering is essential, especially during hot, dry weather. 

Keep the Cabbage Worms Away

Almost every gardener who has grown brassicas has dealt with the dreaded cabbage worms at some point. The name cabbage worms often refers to several species, all of which use brassicas as their primary host plant. These include the Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae), The Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae), and the Cabbage Looper (Trichoplusia ni). They lay their eggs on brassicas, and the eggs hatch into very hungry little caterpillars that can turn cabbages to lace and infiltrate beautiful heads of broccoli. 

Row Cover

Thankfully, there are some simple, organic methods for keeping them away. One of our favorites is to cover your plants with row cover. Usually, you can purchase a lightweight netting row cover and wire hoops to hold it off your plants. Tulle from your local fabric store works just as well and might be a cheaper option. You can also DIY the hoops from PVC or other flexible materials. 

Organic Insecticides

One organic method is B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis). This natural, soil-dwelling bacteria damages the caterpillars’ guts that feed on it. It’s safe for humans, and you can find OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certified products for use on your plants.

Neem oil is another popular choice for repelling cabbage worms. It’s a naturally occurring oil from neem trees that can be applied to your broccoli. Like B.t., you can find OMRI-certified neem oil.

Companion Planting

Cabbage worms are often a more aggressive, intense issue in monoculture plantings. Though they can be more complicated to maintain, gardens mixed with flowers and other vegetables tend to have fewer pest issues. Some specific crops, like Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), are especially noted for their ability to repel cabbage worms.

De Cicco Broccoli
De Cicco Broccoli

Harvesting Broccoli

After being transplanted into the garden, maturity typically ranges from 60 to 90 days, but it can vary. If you’re starting broccoli from seed rather than transplanting seedlings, you must add approximately 25 days to the maturity timeline. This accounts for the additional time it takes for broccoli plants to grow and mature from the seedling stage to full maturity.

Harvest your broccoli heads when they’re deep green and tightly packed. Those heads that have begun to flower or turn yellow should be harvested immediately or left for seed.

Don’t pull your broccoli right away after harvesting the main head. Side-sprouting varieties have smaller central heads with many side sprouts, a valuable feature for extended harvest.

Saving Seed from Broccoli

If you have a few heads that get past their prime, let them go to flower! Many pollinators love brassica flowers, and eventually, you will get seed.

Just know that broccoli will cross with any brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, and kale that’s flowering at the same time. Broccoli Raab will cross with Chinese cabbage, turnips, and some rapeseed (canola). Isolate by 1/8 mile for home use. For pure seed of small plantings, isolate by 1/4 to 1/2 mile.

Broccoli is a great, cold-hardy crop to have in your spring garden. Follow these tips for growing broccoli to help your plants thrive and produce beautiful heads this season!

Starting a Vegetable Garden in February

“Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January, begins with the dream.” 

~Josephine Nuese

If you’ve spent this month dreaming of a garden, now is a great time to put some action behind those dreams! February is the perfect month to start a vegetable garden. Here are a few simple steps you can take to get started today. 

Plan Your Layout

Planning your garden’s layout can help you maximize your space. You’ll need to decide on details like what types of beds you want to create, where your pathways will be, and where you’ll plant any perennials on your list. It’s essential to get a good feel for your layout. You want to ensure you can reach across beds and have plenty of room to maneuver a wheelbarrow.

Once you have the structure laid out, you can design your plantings. Remember that you’ll want to rotate your crop families each year. For example, nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes shouldn’t be planted in the same bed for a couple of years. You may also consider companion plantings. A mix of chives, tomatoes, cabbages, and marigolds rather than monoculture blocks helps deter pests.Hand holding freshly dug carrots

Prepare or Build Your Beds

Depending on what type of beds you’re creating, you’ll need to take different steps to get started. You can use no-till methods like hugelkultur or lasagna beds, though these will generally take longer to be ready for planting. You can also try a traditional garden, double digging, or raised beds. 

If you’re opting for the raised bed route, starting them now is a good idea. You’ll want to choose a solid material, but avoid pressure-treated or other chemical-treated lumber that could leach into the soil. Fill your beds with good-quality soil and finished compost if you want to be able to plant in them this spring. 

Install Fencing

Open gardens may be the beautiful idea you have in mind, but odds are you’ll need to install some fencing to keep the critters out. On the East Coast, gardeners contend with cottontails, groundhogs, raccoons, and tons of white-tailed deer, among other creatures. A good, tall, sturdy fence is a significant investment but will save you a lot of heartache and trouble in the long run.

Order Seeds

If you haven’t already ordered seeds, it’s time to get a move on! Planting time for some crops is already here and is drawing closer for others. It’s time to finalize your seed list and send it in.

We also have a list of other small seed companies that share our values and could use your support if you don’t find what you’re looking for on our website.

Start Seeds

To new gardeners, February may seem an odd time to be planting, but it is the perfect time for many of our cold hardy spring crops. This month, you can start broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and other greens indoors. 

It may be a little cold and dreary, but don’t let that deter you. Spring is just around the corner, and February is a great month to start a vegetable garden.

Growing Eggplants: Tips for Success

Homegrown eggplants are tender, mild, and perfect for summer grilling or classic recipes like eggplant parmesan, baba ganoush, and ratatouille. These heat-loving vegetables can be tricky to grow, though. After years of growing eggplants, we’ve compiled some tips for success.

The Basics

Start your eggplants indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost, and harden them off outdoors for 1 to 2 weeks before transplanting. Plant your eggplants in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Space them equidistant 24 inches apart or 20 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart.

Tips for Success

Eggplants can be challenging to grow, but these tips will ensure success.

Avoid setting plants out too early.

Eggplant seedlings are susceptible to cold temperatures. Attempting to harden them off too early can shock your plants and stunt their growth. If a late cold snap occurs, bring them outdoors during the day, but keep bringing them in at night until the temperature warms.

Garden beds with row cover
Row cover protecting White Beauty Eggplant from flea beetles.

Keep pests off your seedlings.

Young eggplants are highly susceptible to pest pressure, especially flea beetles. There are a few different methods you can use to protect your seedlings.

  • Harden seedlings off on a table at least 3 feet tall. Few issues occur at this height.
  • Use organic control methods like pyrethrum or diatomaceous earth.
  • Cut the bottoms off 1-gallon milk jugs and place them over the seedlings with the lids off.
  • Use row cover to protect young eggplants and remove it just before flowering to allow pollinators to reach the blooms.

Older eggplants require less protection. They can still produce well even with quite a bit of flea beetle damage on their leaves.

Feed your eggplants.

Eggplants enjoy fertile soil that’s rich in organic matter. Adding several inches of finished compost to your bed before planting can encourage good production. You can also mix a bit of compost into your transplant holes.

If you’re growing eggplants in containers, giving them a bit of extra nutrition is a good idea, especially when they’re flowering and setting fruit. You can use an organic vegetable fertilizer or make your own compost tea. 

Provide support for eggplants.

Eggplants loaded with fruit are prone to lodging or falling over. Set up stakes, tomato cages, or other supports early to ensure your plants don’t lodge later. Securing the plants while they’re still small will prevent you from damaging them or knocking off fruit later. 

Keep the soil moist.

Eggplants produce best when they have moist soil but not soggy soil. Check the soil and water regularly to keep it consistently moist for best production.

Louisiana Long Green (Green Banana) EggplantApply mulch.

Mulching around your plants can help suppress weeds, keep the soil moist, and add additional organic matter. We like to mulch around eggplants with an organic mulch like straw or old leaves.

Harvest your eggplants regularly. 

Regular harvesting will encourage your eggplants to keep producing. We find that the small fruits have the best eating quality. Eggplants are ripe when the skin appears glossy, and the fruit is resilient to thumb pressure. When your eggplants mature, harvest them by clipping the stem with scissors or garden snips. 

Rotate your eggplants and other crops.

Eggplants can be affected by many of the same diseases, like verticillium wilt, that affect other nightshades, such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Rotate your crops yearly and avoid growing any nightshades in the same plot for at least two years.

Eggplants are tasty, beautiful additions to the summer garden. They can be fun to grow, too! Even beginners can succeed with eggplants if you follow a few simple tips.

Saving the Past for the Future