An increasing number of gardeners are interested in extending their growing season and growing as many vegetables as they can year-round. With the help of cold frames, row covers, mini hoop houses and other season extenders, gardeners even in the extreme north can see at least a few different vegetable crops through the winter.
If you’re one of those gardeners who like to push the envelope, don’t forget to add purple sprouting broccoli to your overwintering repertoire and be sure to pick a variety bred for its prowess at overwintering. The plants will continue to grow through the autumn, and they will produce a nice crop of purple florets through the autumn and well into winter. In fact, some gardeners harvest fresh shoots from the plants all winter long.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli ‘Rioja F1’ is a compact, very productive hybrid with a bushy habit, which produces very high quality spears. It will give an early spring crop from mid-February if transplanted in July and August. It has a vigorous habit and brightly-coloured spears which makes them easy to pick.
Calabrese & Broccoli is a confusing series of plants:
Supermarkets have helped to confuse the issue of what is broccoli and what is a calabrese by calling both by either name. Most ‘Broccoli’ sold in the supermarkets is actually Calabrese not broccoli.
Broccoli has small heads (mainly purple, sometimes white or green) which mature slowly and can occupy the ground for almost a year. Calabrese are smaller plants that produce larger crowns. (The word broccoli means 'little sprouts' in Italian).
Keep in mind is that broccoli is an over wintered crop but calabrese produces its crop the same year before winter.
Sprouting broccoli can be harvested from late winter to late spring. Calabrese can be harvested from mid-summer to mid-autumn. If you grow both calabrese and sprouting broccoli, your kitchen will be kept in broccoli for most of the year.
Prepare the site:
All brassica crops grow best in partial-shade, in firm, fertile, free-draining but water-retentive soil. Avoid shallow, sandy soils, and exposed sites
Start digging over your soil in autumn, removing any stones you find and working in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Tread on the soil to remove any air pockets and make the surface very firm. Brassicas will fail if the soil is too acidic so add lime to the soil if necessary, aiming for a pH of 6.5.
How to sow Sprouting Broccoli:
For early production, sow in March for planting April to harvest in November.
For direct sowing, sow April to mid June for harvesting January to May.
Expected germination time 7-12 days, depending on soil temperature.
Sowing Indoors: March
Sprouting broccoli should be sown in modules from mid-spring to mid-summer. Seeds should be sown thinly, as this reduces the amount of future thinning necessary and potential risk from pests, (a few plants will be sufficient for most broccoli lovers). After a few months, when your seedlings reach 6 and 8cm high (2½ -3in), they're ready to plant outside. Water the day before moving, and keep well-watered until established. Space plants at least 60cm apart and make sure you dig a good deep drill (2.5cm) to give them good anchorage.
Sowing Direct: April to mid June
Sow seeds 1.25cm (½in) deep and rows should be spaced 15cm (6in) apart. Keep well-watered. Once the seeds have germinated, thin the seedlings. Eventual spacing should be at least 60cm apart and make sure you dig a good deep drill (2.5cm) to give them good anchorage. Water them a little for the first few weeks.
Once the plants are in the ground the process is easy. Just let them stand and protect them from the eggs of Cabbage White butterfly and peckish wood pigeon who love the tender plantlets. Fruit nets are fine. Remember to shake off the snow in the winter.
As your sprouting broccoli begins to flourish, you may find you need to stake and/or build soil up around the stem to support it. Remove any yellowing or fallen leaves and burn them to prevent fungal diseases setting in. Sprouting broccoli crops may be damaged by pigeons over the winter. Use netting where necessary.
Harvest: Late winter to late spring.
Sprouting broccoli can be harvested when the flower shoots are well developed but before the flowers have actually opened. Timing is important, as once in flower, the shoots are woody and tasteless.
Cut the central spear with a sharp knife first as this encourages the side shoots to develop quickly. Pick the side-shoots regularly (when about 10cm (4in) long. Regular picking can extend cropping time for up to eight weeks. Don't get carried away and strip plants entirely in one go!
Fresh florets will keep in the fridge for around a week but are also great frozen. Steam rather than boil to keep their rich colour and vitamin count. Leaves also can be cooked and eaten as a winter green.
Rotate your crops, planting brassicas, of any kinds, in the same ground more often than once every four years runs the risk of club root infestation and once you have it, the ground is useless for up to a decade. Don't take needless chances, even with "catch crops" of radishes.
Broccoli evolved from a wild cabbage plant on the continent of Europe. Indications point to the vegetable's being known 2,000 years ago. Broccoli grew wild on the shores of the Mediterranean sea and since the Roman Empire has been considered a uniquely valuable food among Italians.
It can be traced to France in the 1500s, England in the mid-18th century and began to be cultivated commercially in the United States in the 1930s.
Because broccoli was developed in Italy, the plant was named by botanists as Brassica oleracea variety italica.
The Latin name Brassica derives from the Celtic ‘bresic’. The species oleracea refers to a vegetable garden herb that is used in cooking,
The word broccoli is from the Italian plural of broccolo, meaning 'little sprouts' in Italian referring to the flowering top of a cabbage. The large heading varieties of broccoli are sometimes named calabrese after the region of Calabria in Italy.
Broccoli is the leading member of the nutritious cruciferous family of vegetables, so named for their cross shaped blossoms.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25 Seeds Average Seed Count Precision, Graded Seeds - 2.00 to 2.25mm Common Name Purple Sprouting Broccoli Other Language Names brokkoli Family Brassicaceae Genus Brassica Species olearacea Cultivar Rioja F1 Hardiness Hardy Biennial Position Partial-shade Soil Firm, fertile, free-draining but water-retentive soil. Season Spring to Autumn Time to Sow March to June (up to October in a Polytunnel) Germination 7 to 12 days, depending on soil temperature. Harvest 50 to 70 days from sowing