Broccoli. What a beautiful plant, maybe the finest in the garden, with its dinner-plate leaves and blue-green glow. I grow for beauty as well as food, so I surround broccoli plants and purple cabbage with orange and yellow marigolds – not for any insect-repelling qualities, but just for looks and fragrance.

Under the broccoli I’ll plant a first crop of salad greens, something light emerald green like Black-seeded Simpson lettuce (one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites) and let it grow in the shade of broccoli leaves to keep it from bolting.

 I’m having fun just thinking about this. 

Getting back to broccoli, you can start the seedlings indoors 5-6 weeks before setting out, and if you harden them off  (out by day, in by night, or in a cold frame), you can put them in the garden two weeks before last average frost date. Broccoli, as with all the brassicas, love cool weather, and treat frost like Br’er rabbit in the briar patch.

 They can also be direct-seeded before before last frost, but they won’t come up until they’re ready. I’ve found that such seedlings won’t be bothered by cutworms. I don’t know why. Tougher maybe.

 The seeds germinate easily indoors, grow quickly, and need no coddling. They also transplant well. The germination rate on brassicas is about 80 percent, so figure on some empty cells in the flats, which you can fill in with extra seedlings in other cells. As with all other seedlings born indoors, they need at least 12 hours of light per day, and water only enough to keep the roots damp and the top layer of potting soil dry. That’s to prevent damping-off disease, where the seedling chokes and falls over dead.

 Look back on this blog for information on seed-starting. Come planting time I’ll get into planting advice, but if you have a good memory, here it is. I grow broccoli in 2-3 foot wide beds, spaced in staggered rows with each plant at least 18 inches from another. At planting time, this seems an enormous distance. But just wait.

 Note: the richer your soil, the closer you can plant. Seed companies generally assume a mediocre soil, and base their plant spacing on that. You can ignore their advice if your soil is richly fertile in organic matter, but broccoli needs 18 inches regardless. Same for cabbage. They just need the room.

 Welcome, again, to spring. friends. I spent the day shoveling well-composted manure from the neighbors’ horse farm onto my beds, and am ready for dinner.

About lifegrower

Peter V. Fossel has been gardening since he was nine, and has been an organic farmer for the last 20 years. His most recent book, “Organic Farming, Everything You Need to know” was published by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, 2007. He’s written numerous gardening articles for Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Country Journal, Out Here, and American Profile among others. He was Gardens Manager for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before returning to Cape Cod to start his newest organic venture, Swan River Farm in Dennisport, MA.
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