by Jennifer Poindexter
Purple sprouting broccoli. Is this a new one for you? Many people don’t know about it because it’s a crop that’s mostly known for being grown when gardening season is coming to an end.
It’s a great way to get fresh produce when it seems nothing else will grow. This crop looks like broccoli but isn’t the traditional vegetable most know and love.
If you’d like to find a cold-tolerant crop that will provide freshness to your meals when you’re tired of eating frozen and canned veggies, purple sprouting broccoli could be for you.
Here’s what you need to know to grow it.
Growing Conditions for Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Purple sprouting broccoli is high in many vitamins and nutrients. This is why it’s such a great boost in the colder months, when it seems our bodies aren’t receiving anything fresh.
It’s part of the cabbage family and does well in colder climates. Not only can the plant tolerate cold, but the cold helps improve its flavor.
Sprouting broccoli likes to grow in full sun, but it prefers hard, clay-like soil. It’s pH specific, so ensure the soil has a pH between six and seven.
This crop is usually planted in late summer for a winter harvest or in early spring for a fall harvest. Sprouting broccoli is a unique crop. It doesn’t have many of the growing requirements that other vegetables seem to share.
However, if you can provide the unique growing conditions and plant during the specific planting times, you may have a harvest that will provide what your body needs when it’s needed most.
How to Plant Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Sprouting broccoli can be started indoors or direct sowed. Once you’ve created a garden plot for this crop, you can decide which method is your best option based upon your gardening experience and needs.
If you start the seeds indoors, do so one month prior to when you’d like to transplant them outdoors. The seeds should be placed in quality soil in a grow tray.
I like to plant two seeds per cell in the grow tray as an insurance policy for germination. If both seeds sprout, pick the healthiest plant to continue.
The seeds need light once the germination process has occurred. When the sprouts have reached four inches in height, it’s time to move them outdoors.
Whether transplanting seedlings or direct sowing, it’s important to amend the soil in the chosen garden plot prior to planting. You want the plants to have the nutrients they need at their disposal.
Placing the necessary elements in the soil, prior to planting, ensures this happens. If transplanting your seedlings, harden them off one week prior to planting.
When ready, dig a shallow hole in the garden space. It only needs enough room to support the plant’s root system.
Once the plant is sitting snugly in the hole, pull the soil around the base of the plant. Press on it firmly to stop any air from reaching the roots. The plants should have two feet of space between them.
If you’re direct sowing in this location, place the seeds a half inch deep in the soil and lightly cover. Initially, plant each seed with one foot of space between them.
Once the seeds have sprouted, thin them to ensure there’s two feet of space between the plants.
Your purple sprouting broccoli is now planted. It’s time to learn how to properly care for this crop to increase your odds of a great harvest.
Caring for Purple Sprouting Broccoli
There are a few steps you must follow to properly care for the sprouting broccoli. The plants will need water, mulch, and fertilizing at specific times. They’ll also need a slight grooming from time to time and proper staking.
Let’s begin with the simple tasks. Watering plants is one of the easiest things a gardener gets to do. It’s wise to use the deep watering method when supplying this need to sprouting broccoli.
This allows you to water fewer days of the week but for longer periods of time. By doing this, it ensures the plants are watered regularly without becoming overwatered.
The deep watering method also encourages the plants to use their roots to search out water. In doing this, the plants develop stronger root systems.
If you’re ever feeling uncertain about when to water your sprouting broccoli, insert your finger into the soil next to the plant. If it’s dry to the first knuckle, deep water your crops. If it’s still moist, wait to apply more water.
The next step in caring for sprouting broccoli is mulching. This will help the plants retain moisture but also keep weeds down in the garden bed.
Keeping the weeds down not only deters pests and diseases, but it also protects the nutrients in the soil. If there are weeds around your plants, the sprouting broccoli will be forced to compete for nutrients. This won’t help your harvest and consequently is why mulching is important.
Fertilizing sprouting broccoli at the appropriate times is another step to caring for this crop. Fertilizer should be applied when heads begin to form.
Apply a balanced fertilizer at this time. If you ever look at the crops and they seem to be struggling or are stunted, apply balanced fertilizer to help give the plants a boost.
You should also apply a nitrogen rich fertilizer when planting sprouting broccoli. This will give the plant a boost as it becomes acclimated to its new garden space.
Sprouting broccoli will need to be staked if your area is prone to high winds or harsh winters. By pulling mulch up around the stem of the plant and applying a stake, you’re doing all you can to protect the roots from bitter temperatures and providing necessary support against tough winds.
Finally, if you see the sprouting broccoli plants starting to bloom or produce yellow leaves, those should be removed.
The yellow leaves will only attract disease and pests. The flowers are a sign the plant feels old. By removing them, it encourages the plant to keep growing and will extend your season.
None of the steps to caring for this crop are particularly difficult. Ensure you provide the care when needed, and your harvest will hopefully reflect your effort.
Common Garden Pests and Diseases for Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Most crops in the cabbage family are prone to a variety of pests. Purple sprouting broccoli is no different. When raising this crop, you should be aware of birds, caterpillars, aphids, slugs, cabbage root flies, and cabbage worms.
The good news is aphids, caterpillars, and cabbage worms can all be treated with insecticides. Be sure to read the instructions, on the bottle, for clarification on its treatment of the pests you’re dealing with.
Sprouting broccoli can be protected from birds by covering it with bird netting. Slugs can be treated by sprinkling diatomaceous earth or coffee grounds around the base of the plants.
When the slugs crawl over the diatomaceous earth, it creates a deadly terrain for them. The caffeine in the coffee grounds serves as a deterrent for slugs.
Finally, the cabbage root fly cannot be treated with an insecticide. The best thing to do is place cardboard around the base of your sprouting broccoli plants. This will deter the fly from laying her eggs at the base of the plant and should protect your crops from the larvae which attack at soil level.
There are a few diseases you must be aware of when raising sprouting broccoli. Downy mildew and Alternaria leaf spot are both common fungal diseases.
The best way to deter these issues is to make sure there’s plenty of room between the plants. This will increase air flow around them.
Try to water your crops earlier in the day. This will allow the foliage time to dry before the cool night air sets in and creates the perfect breeding ground for fungus.
If you take these steps and the fungal diseases still form, remove any parts of the plant infected and treat with a fungicide.
Stay alert to these potential problems, be prepared to act at the first sign of them, and continue treatment for any problem as needed. This will be your best plan of action to protect your crops.
How to Harvest Purple Sprouting Broccoli
As mentioned earlier, you’ll notice when your sprouting broccoli begins to flower. As this starts, you’ll know harvest time is nearing.
Start the harvesting process by cutting out the center of the plant. Use garden shears or scissors and slice the heads away from the plant at an angle.
Once the crop is harvested bring it indoors. You can store it in the refrigerator for four days or freeze it. If you choose to freeze the sprouting broccoli, blanche it first in boiling water for one minute.
Place the sprouting broccoli in ice cold water to quickly cool it. Once this is complete, allow the harvest to drain before placing it in freezer bags.
The entire sprouting broccoli plant is edible. You can remove the remainder of the plant and enjoy the stems and leaves fresh or freeze them alongside the harvested heads.
Sprouting broccoli isn’t a popular vegetable. It can’t even be found in some supermarkets. However, if you’d like a vegetable which provides many vital nutrients and thrives in cold temperatures, try your hand at raising this unusual crop.