Broccoli is usually a cool-season vegetable and is therefore easy to grow indoors. It is usually possible to grow two crops of broccoli annually in most parts of the country.
But let us first get to know broccoli before we plunge into growing the vegetable at home. Here are some interesting facts that may inspire you to grow broccoli indoors.
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is an edible green plant whose large flowering head, stalk and small accompanying leaves are eaten as a vegetable. It is both delicious and nutritious which makes it perfect for a variety of meals.
Compared to many other vegetables, broccoli requires less sunlight – a great option if your location does not quite get enough light or for indoor growing. Although it does not look exactly like the cabbage that we know of, broccoli belongs to the same family.
Broccoli is an important and popular vegetable because it is rich in vitamin C and vitamin K.
We are all familiar with how vitamin C is vital for the growth and repair of tissues in practically all parts of the body – particularly the blood vessels, ligaments, skin and tendons. It is also responsible for the faster healing wounds and formation of scar tissues.
The allied job of making various proteins that facilitate blood clotting, bone building and development is what vitamin K does.
Are broccoli and cauliflower one and the same thing?
Many people confuse cauliflower with broccoli. We don’t really pay attention to the differences but the following usually little known pieces of information make them distinctly different from each other.
While they come from the same family that includes cabbage and Brussels sprouts (family Brassicaceae), they are of different cultivar groups. Broccoli belongs to the Italica cultivar group while cauliflower comes from the Botrytis cultivar group.
When you look at the two vegetables more closely, you will notice that you can “look between the stalks” of broccoli while the cauliflower looks like one solid mass. This is because of the difference in the amounts of fluorescence they possess.
Meaning of their names
Broccoli is an Italian word meaning “flowering crest of a cabbage,” while cauliflower is derived from Latin which means “the flowers of a cabbage.” You do not need to be grammatical experts and prose-and-poetry writers to know that the two phrases that define the two vegetables truly have different meanings.
Number of varieties
Broccoli and cauliflower can also be distinguished one from the other in the number of varieties they have.
- Calabrese broccoli. Named after Calabria in Italy, it is the most common variety of broccoli and is often to simply as “broccoli.” It is a cool-season annual crop that grows large four- to eight-inch green heads and thick stalks.
- Sprouting broccoli. White or purple in color, it has many heads and many thin stalks that make the whole thing look more like broccolini.
- Purple cauliflower or violet cauliflower. A type of broccoli which is grown in Europe and North America. The name is admittedly a bit confusing but technically, it is not a cauliflower. Its head is formed like a cauliflower but it consists of many tiny flower buds. Sometimes (but not always), the tips of the flower buds exude a purple cast. It may also be green, red, white or any of a variety of flower or plant colors.
- Italian. The ancestral form of cauliflower from which all the other varieties originated. It is diverse in appearance and could be either the annual or biennial type. This includes green, Romanesco, purple, white, yellow and various brown cultivars.
- Northern European annuals. Developed in Germany during the 18th century, it is used in Europe and North America for the summer and fall harvests. This is the variety that includes the old Erfurt and Snowball cultivars.
- Northwest European biennial. This variety was developed in France in the 19th century and is used in Europe for the winter and early spring harvests. Angers and Roscoff are typical old cultivars belonging to this cauliflower variety.
- Asian. As it is Asian, it is a tropical cauliflower. It was developed in India during the 19th century as an offshoot from the now-abandoned Cornish type. Mainly used in China and India which are the top two producers worldwide at 10.2 and 8.2 million tons annually (as of 2016 reckoning). This variety includes old varieties such as Early Benaras and Early Patna.
Does broccoli grow well indoors?
Definitely! The reputation of broccoli as the most popular winter vegetable is owed mostly to the ease in caring and growing it compared to the cauliflower, its closest cousin. It is also almost always available throughout the world for most of the year.
How long does it take to grow broccoli indoors?
A few varieties of broccoli extend up to a little over 100 days from the day the seed is sown until they are ready for harvest. But on the average, it usually takes about eighty to one hundred days for most varieties.
Can broccoli be grown in containers?
As with any other plant, broccoli requires the right kind and size of container for it to optimally grow – not too large and especially not too small. Large containers, especially very large ones, will take up so much space that you will only be able to plant a few. Small containers, on the other hand, will tend to stunt the growth of the plant.
A 3-gallon container or 10- to 12-inch pots would be ideal. Most broccoli varieties grow to about 1.5 feet wide and up to 2-3 feet tall. You will naturally want to make sure that your plant has enough space to grow because even the smaller varieties can be comparatively bigger than other plants. Grow your broccoli one plant per pot.
Because you are growing your broccoli indoors and not in a regular farm or garden which have built-in natural soil nutrients (unless your farm or garden is overused making it deficient of important nutrients), you will have to make sure to use high-quality potting soil.
The ideal potting mix is: 40% soil + 40% compost + 20% sand. Fertilize your plant relatively infrequently, say every three weeks or so, with a balanced fertilizer. Too much nitrogen promotes excessive leaf growth. Phosphorus and potassium aid in bloom development. An easier option is to look for fertilizers specific to the vegetable you are growing.
How much broccoli do you get from one plant?
Most broccoli varieties produce at least one primary head from one plant. On the average, this primary head weighs up to 8 ounces. The flowering head of a broccoli “giant” weighs about 2.2 pounds.
Your location dictates the types and varieties of broccoli you can plant and grow. You should choose varieties that are suitable to your specific climatic zone. Based on this information, you can plan on what you can do to get the optimal number, volume and weight of broccoli you can produce.
How many broccoli plants should I plant?
The number of broccoli you should plant would depend on the following determinant factors:
- Climatic zone (amount of rain, snow, sunlight, wind, etc. per season).
- Size of farm, garden or house free space.
- Farm, garden or house layout and orientation. This will affect the influence of climatic factors on your plant.
- The amount of time you can devote on the plants plus your determination and passion for gardening and plants.
How to plant broccoli
It is relatively easy to plant broccoli. But your specific location on the globe is a variable you have to consider. Otherwise, the following method quite meets a standard for broccoli growing.
- Buy good quality seeds from online stores, nearby nurseries or your neighborhood seed supplier.
- It is always wise to plant broccoli during cool weather – fall or early spring.
- For seedling preparation (sowing), use 6-inch pots to plant the seeds in. You can sow up to 7 seeds per pot in holes of between ¼ to ½ inch deep (6-13 mm). Remember to label the pot with the plant name and the date of sowing lest you forget. It will help avoid confusion should you also grow other plants.
- Ideal potting medium: 50% cocopeat + 25% perlite or sand + 25% vermicompost.
- Ideal temperature range: 59° to 86° Fahrenheit (15° to 30° Celsius).
- Broccoli prefers a slightly acidic soil, in the range of pH levels 6 to 7.
- Water thoroughly after sowing. Broccoli seedlings thrive very well when drainage is good. A good indicator that you have watered the seedlings enough is when the water starts to leak through the drainage holes. Drench the soil but make sure that there are no water puddles on the seedling pot.
- Broccoli seeds usually germinate within 4 to 7 days especially if the ambient temperature is kept within 59º to 86º Fahrenheit. The seedlings must have already sprouted well by the 11th day (after sowing).
- On the 19th day, the broccoli seedlings should be ready to be transplanted. The plant should already have grown 4 to 6 “true” leaves. The first two leaves are not considered as “true” leaves.
- Use 10- to 12-inch pots for the transplants. Plant one seedling to each pot containing organic and rich soil to make sure your young broccoli grows firm and steady.
- Ideal potting mix for the transplanted broccoli is: 40% soil + 40% compost + 20% sand.
- As broccoli prefers full sun, choose a location that allows from 6 to 8 hours of light (direct sunlight, if possible), daily. Large windows facing south should do it.
- But during the first 5 to 7 days after transplant, place the young broccoli plants in a partially shaded area until they are stable and strong enough for the “growing-up” full sun. Partially drawing the window curtains can do the trick.
- Use a balanced mixture of fertilizer. Too much nitrogen can result in excessive growth of the leaves. Phosphorus and potassium encourage bloom development.
- Broccoli grows best in moist (but not soggy) soil. Water regularly.
- Fertilize the plant about 3 weeks after planting – that is around the 39th day after sowing.
- After 60 days, use nitrogen-rich fertilizer when the broccoli begins to form new leaves. Continue fertilizing the plant once every week until the broccoli is ready for harvest.
- Fish emulsion works well as a fertilizer for broccoli.
- Starting from the 96th day onwards, you may shift from fish emulsion to bone meal, fish meal, cow manure, sea meal, neem cake, mustard cake or whatever is readily available in your area for your maturing fertilizer.
- Some broccoli plants are already harvestable as early as the 80th day. But there are those that become harvestable as late as a little over a hundred days.
- A sound rule of thumb for when broccoli is due for harvest is when its unopened flower is fully developed but before the individual buds open into small yellow flowers.
- Harvesting is ideally done by cutting the head with pruning scissors.
How to keep bugs off broccoli plants
Plant pests are always a problem to anyone who seriously takes on farming or gardening.
You would think that planting broccoli indoors frees you from pestering insects. Garden pests are creative and can find their way into where you are peacefully growing your broccoli.
How do you keep bugs off your plants? There are actually a lot of ways you can do that – some very effective and some are just myths. Let us try to enumerate some methods and tools that people use to keep their broccoli plants safe from nature’s bothersome pests.
- By using covers and screens to lock bugs and other pests out, such as:
- Mesh food tents, mesh laundry baskets and nylons/hosiery may work while the plants are yet small.
- Depending on the size and the ways they are structured, screens may work even until the plants are full-grown but may prove to be aesthetically unfitting for an indoor “garden.”
- Floating row covers are only applicable to outdoor gardens.
- Application of microbial insecticides such as Spinosad, Bacillus thuringiensis, etc. These are natural substances made by certain soil bacteria. They have been observed to be fatally toxic to insects and are hence used to control plant pests. Toxicity to humans and mammals is very low.
- Trap cropping is another natural way of keeping your broccoli plant pest-free. The trap crop is used as a bait and become sacrificial plants to lure flea beetles and similar pests to infest them keeping the broccoli safe.
How long does broccoli last and ways to store it
Broccoli is one of the most difficult vegetables to store for future use. It is good that it is readily available almost everywhere. But if you do have some surplus, however, from your harvest or you have misjudged how much you can eat at once when you last went grocery and vegetable shopping, there are a few methods that can work for you.
- The broccoli bouquet. You can do this by making a loose bouquet of your surplus broccoli by submerging them in a shallow vase or any cylindrical container with half an inch of water at the bottom. Just make sure that the bottom ends are submerged in the water. Then loosely cover the heads which should just peek out of the container top with plastic wrapping allowing the broccoli to breathe. The broccoli will keep for three or up to a week in the fridge. Don’t forget to change the water everyday.
- The paper towel wrap. This can be done by loosely wrapping the bunch of broccoli in a damp paper towel, providing a breathable, healthy and moist atmosphere. Place it in the fridge. You can enjoy your broccoli fresh for between three to five days. Make sure to thoroughly wash away mold growths before use. That happens if broccoli had been too moist when you stored it.
- The good old plastic bag. If you are in a hurry, wrap the broccoli loosely in a plastic bag with several holes around it to allow the vegetable to breathe. It will last from three to five days in the vegetable crisper drawer. Also don’t forget to thoroughly wash before next use. There may be tiny mold growths on the broccoli while in storage.
- The freeze. This method allows you to keep your broccoli for up to a year. But this takes more work than the first three methods we enumerated above.
- First, prepare a large pot of water for you to bring to boil.
- While heating the water, cut the broccoli into small florets (which you can also use as part of side dishes, stir fries or home-made vegetable broth).
- Put the cut broccoli into the boiling water for three minutes. This process is called blanching. Make a large bowl of ice bath ready at this point.
- Drain the blanched broccoli in a colander and plunge it in the ice bath and let stay for three minutes
- Thoroughly dry by removing excess moisture with a paper towel. Your broccoli is now ready for the twelve month long storage in the freezer in an airtight container.
The story of broccoli—safe and sure broccoli—produced and consumed at home.
From sowing, to growing, to harvesting and storing–right at your own home.
You are sure that the broccoli you eat is organic and free from synthetic elements we don’t want in the food we eat.