COLUMBIA, S.C. — Broccoli is an easy plant to grow from seed (if you start it at the right time of the year). This cool season vegetable doesn’t like the heat of the summer, but thrive in the shorter days of winter, even when temperatures drop below freezing. This makes broccoli an easy plant to grow and even if it never produces its famous florets, there’s plenty to eat off of this plant!
What is Broccoli?
Broccoli - like many other famous veggies and greens - doesn’t occur in the wild. The plant is part of the mustard family and is related to Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens. Although all these plants appear very different when they’re on our dinner plates, they have similar lineage, growing requirements and needs!
The “broccoli” part of the plant is actually a crown of unopened flower buds that have been modified for deliciousness through hundreds of years of cultivation. However, the buds aren't the only tasty part of a broccoli plant! When I shared photos of the broccoli I was growing in Gandy’s Garden on my Facebook page, many were surprised to learn broccoli leaves are edible! The leaves have a “broccoli” taste and can be treated like Spinach, collards, and other leafy greens.
The most important thing to know about growing broccoli.
As I learned from the catastrophe that was our cauliflower plants - their is no time that’s too soon to pick the florets off a plant (but there is definitely a time that’s too late). Whether it’s broccoli or cauliflower, they only taste good before the flower buds open. After that point they’re better served on the compost pile or kept around for the pollinators (or the deer, but I try not to encourage those!).
So when in doubt, pick early, not late. When the weather warms up, broccoli buds will open quickly and at that point it’s too late to enjoy them.
Our broccoli plants took 4 months to grow from seeds to mature plants so if you’d like broccoli in your fall garden, it’s best to germinate them in late August in deep shade and bring them into sunlight when the weather cools down. I planted the broccoli seeds directly into the ground in January, but it was a mild winter. During extreme cold, you might want to start the seeds in pots outside and bring them inside when temperatures drop below 30. Once established, broccoli can survive temperatures well into the 20s as long as they aren’t starting to bud.