Sprouting Broccoli - not to be confused with standard Calabrese which is an all green summer crop - is one of the most reliable, successful and delicious winter vegetables and is justifiably a real favourite in Kitchen Gardens.
Even if you can find sprouting broccoli on sale in the shop it's one of those vegetables which is far better picked fresh from the garden and cooked within minutes - Just a few plants are enough to supply something special to go with a Sunday roast at a time of year when there isn't much fresh food from the garden and the occasionally frost makes it taste all the better.
When To Plant
Sprouting Broccoli isn't a vegetable that freezes well but by growing one of the specialised summer cropping varieties such as ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Summer Purple’ you could have fresh purple sprouting broccoli from the garden all year round - Sow seeds undercover in February /March for the earliest crop in July and again at intervals of three weeks until early June to provide crops fairly quickly.
Traditional winter cropping Purple Sprouting Broccoli should be sown in late April/ early May in a seedbed and thinned out to 10cm apart.
Transplant strong young plants to their final positions in June or early July spacing 45cm apart in each direction.
Plant in very firm ground and water in, continuing to water well in dry spells to keep plants growing without interruption. To boost growth give a general purpose liquid or granular feed in early autumn with plenty of water to wash it in.
To ensure a healthy and abundant crop, the plants must have access to plenty of sunlight. Aim for 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day throughout the growing season. For best results, position the plants in a south-facing spot in the garden. However, be mindful that too much sun can cause the leaves to scorch, so you may need to provide some shade from intense midday rays. On the other hand, if the purple sprouting broccoli plants are not receiving enough sunlight, they may become leggy and weak.
Purple sprouting broccoli prefers well-drained soil with a pH level of 6.0-7.5. To achieve this, be sure to free the soil of weeds and fertilize with a balanced fertilizer before planting. To help retain moisture in the soil, mulch should be applied to reduce water evaporation. For optimal growth, a sunny spot with afternoon shade is ideal for planting purple sprouting broccoli. If the soil is too acidic, add lime to raise the pH level to the desired range. Once the soil is prepared and the broccoli is planted, ensure the soil is kept moist but not soggy.
Support plants using plant supports or stakes before the Autumn winds set in.
Purple Sprouting Harvest
Harvest as soon as the colour of developing purple or white spears is visible in late winter, from mid January to the end of March depending on your variety.
Once plants start sprouting check them over at least twice a week so that no shoots are left to run to seed - the more young shoots you cut the more you will get - and cut the entire shoot 5 to 10 cm long with a sharp knife.
Caterpillars in Summer
Unlike most brassica crops, sprouting broccoli stays amazingly pest free since the edible part forms in winter and early spring when there are no cabbage white butterflies about. Even if the plants themselves suffer a slight outbreak of caterpillars during the summer it's usually not a problem but if it begins to check the plants growth then pick pests off by hand or use suitable organic spray.
In cold winters, when food is scarce, pigeons will often raid gardens and allotments and brassica crops are among their favourites – they peck away leaves and can reduce plants to bare stems overnight. Cover brassicas with fine mesh or bird netting to protect them - a Crop Cage will raise the net well up above the plants to ensure that birds cannot peck through and reach the plants but many gardeners find that a dedicated Walk in Fruit Cage for their Brassicas and other vulnerable crops is a great investment and helps ensure a successful crop.
Clubroot is the biggest worry for Brassicas - it's usually bought in on young plants raised in infected ground and roots of affected plants swell up and eventually rot. Club root stays in the ground for some time so should be avoided by raising your own seedlings in well drained soil and by limiting acidity prior to planting - the disease is less common on chalky alkaline soils and where drainage is good.