“Sprouting broccoli” is a different vegetable to the standard broccoli that we get in the shops (which is actually called calabrese). Sprouting broccoli produces small florets in purple or white varieties and is traditionally harvested in winter and spring. It is a fantastic vegetable to grow as it will provide plenty of food at a time when there’s very little else available in the veg patch (from February to April) – so it’s a classic Hungry Gap crop.
Whereas calabrese is succession sown, sprouting broccoli is generally sown once, in early June with the aim of getting 4-6 good healthy plants which will grow through the year and then produce food the following spring. Sow two seeds per module in a module tray about 2cm deep in a greenhouse or polytunnel. If both seeds germinate, remove the weaker one. The seedlings will be ready to transplant in a month. It makes sense to sow an early and late variety at the same time, so that you will get a longer harvesting season.
Unlike calabrese (where the seedlings are planted 15cm apart), sprouting broccoli needs a lot more space. Allow 75cm between the plants. Include calabrese and sprouting broccoli in your brassica rotation – do not grow them anywhere that you have grown any member of the cabbage family the previous year. Plant them in soil that has been manured well the previous autumn. Water well and frequently (in dry weather) and keep the base of the plants weed free. Sprouting broccoli plants become quite tall and heavy – they will need support to prevent them falling over in gales.
The plants will start producing shoots around February (or earlier in a mild winter) and will go on cropping for up to 3 months. The shoots should be cut when 15cm long. Harvest regularly and do not allow to go to flower – if this happens remove the flowers immediately to allow the plant to continue producing shoots.
Early Purple Sprouting, Rudolph, Santee, Bordeaux
Broccoli is susceptible to the same issues as cabbage and other brassicas.
1. The more you cut, the more it will produce – so blanch and freeze if you have more than you can handle.
2. Give them a good mulch with some compost over the winter – this will feed the plant and by earthing up you are also supporting the base.