Broccoli is not only what Eliot Coleman calls “the perfect vegetable,” because it produces a main head and then smaller side heads after that, but is a powerhouse of health. It and other members of the Brassica family produce a cancer-fighting substance called sulforaphane, along with a rich supply of vitamins A and C. It freezes well and is tasty fresh or (in my book) steamed. Remember its consistency in the school cafeteria? Don’t do that, people.
Broccoli is a heavy nitrogen feeder, loves cool weather, and grows best when given a steady supply of moisture in a soil high in organic content (yeah, I know, what else is new?)
I grow both a fall and spring crop, and the fall crop seems tastier because it matures in cooler weather than a spring crop. It also has far fewer pest problems.
In spring, I set out transplants when they’re about 5 inches tall, with four or five true leaves, hardening them off for a week, then planting after last frost date when night temperatures are mostly above 50F. (Light frosts have never hurt my broccoli once they were hardened off.) For good root development, set the plants in a little deeper than they were in the flat.
Harvest before any of the buds open, and take as much stalk as you can. This is as tasty and nutritious as the head. Harvest in the morning, and cool the head immediately to get rid of what they call “field heat.” Then one or two harvests may be gathered from the side shoots. I charge a premium for these florets because they’re so delicious.
Sow a fall crop such that it matures a week before first frost date. Frost doesn’t hurt the head a bit, however. I’ve seen heads turn purple and freeze, only to thaw out and be as tasty as ever.