by Nicholas Bostick
Broccoli has been the bane of veggie-hating children and adults, but the variety we’re talking about today is pretty enough to convert anyone. Purple sprouting broccoli is a delicious and aesthetic cousin of the bushy green vegetable. This hardy and cold-resistant variety of broccoli is perfect for anyone looking to maintain a harvest year-round. Plus, you’re not likely to find this vegetable in most grocery stores.
Purple sprouting is more than attractive. It also has more vitamin C and A content, fewer carbs, and more protein than regular broccoli—aking purple sprouting even healthier than its much-maligned cousin. Even though once cooked the florets lose their namesake color, they’re just as tender and even more flavorful than calabrese, the most common broccoli.
Growing Conditions for Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Purple sprouting plants need full sun and firm soil to grow to their best potential. Your soil pH should be somewhere between 6.1 and 7. Keep these plants protected from gusts of wind and water consistently, especially when the soil appears dry.
Planting Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Sow your seeds in either early spring for a harvest in early winter or closer to mid-June for a harvest after New Year’s Day. Purple sprouting is very cold-resistant. In fact, cooler temperatures can also improve the flavor of the harvested florets, so keep this in mind when deciding when to plant your crop. You can also start the plants inside, using modular containers before transferring to a final location. This method will assist successful sprouting and speed up time to harvest.
If started inside, fill your containers with a fine-textured compost. Make sure to break up any lumps in the compost, and pat it down the containers to help it settle. Place one or two seeds in small depressions in the compost, then add another layer on top, and wipe away the excess. Water your trays or containers, and place in a greenhouse or near a windowsill for about four weeks. Once the seedlings have grown to be three to four inches tall, transfer to a final location.
Till high-nitrogen compost or composted manure into your soil before sowing seeds outside. Sow the seeds one half-inch deep and 10 inches apart, and lightly firm the soil. Keep the seedlings moist, removing weaker plants to make room for more healthy plants. When they’ve grown to be three to four inches tall, transfer the seedlings to their final location, leaving about two feet of space between each plant.
Care of Broccoli Plants
Once your plants have been transferred to their final location, make sure the soil stays moist. A layer of mulch spread over the soil can help to retain water during dry weather. If your plants experience slow growth, liquid feed or pellets of either seaweed or manure can give your plants a needed boost.
Also be sure to remove any flower clusters that may appear before they bloom. (Note that these clusters and the plant’s leaves are also edible, so don’t just toss them.) Allowing your purple sprouting broccoli plants to flower will prevent your plants from producing more shoots.
Harvesting and Storage
Around the time your plants begin to flower, a central cluster should be visible. Cut this cluster off at an angle to prevent damaging the stem. Removing the central head will increase the growth of side shoots. The shoots are ready for harvest after they grow to be about six inches long.
The second year’s harvest should be even more plentiful than the first, provided you keep the plants from flowering. Regular harvesting of the shoots will also increase yield. As mentioned, the leaves, flower clusters, and even the stems are all edible, so your plants should offer plenty to eat through the winter.
Purple sprouting can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, just like traditional broccoli. You can also extend the shelf life of your harvest by blanching the florets in water and freezing. Yet once you get your first taste, these purple beauties will likely end up going straight from your garden to your plate.
Common Pests and Problems
Adding a layer of mulch to the topsoil can also help prevent weeds from growing around your purple sprouting broccoli plants. Keeping your plants covered with a fine mesh screen can also help protect plants from insects and birds. Broccoli is within the same family as cabbage, so common pests and diseases that affect cabbage can also plague your broccoli. This includes pests such as the cabbage white caterpillar.
To combat the cabbage white caterpillar, check the underside of your leaves for the yellowish eggs of the cabbage white. An application of an organic Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt-based insecticide, can handle most pests.
One of the biggest concerns for purple sprouting broccoli plants is wind. These plants have shallow roots and can grow up to three feet in height, so be sure to plant in a place protected from the wind. Support stakes can also help stabilize matured plants if needed.
Even the most veggie-fearing friends and family will be won over by these perky purple florets. With more nutrients, better flavor, and low growing maintenance, purple sprouting will become your broccoli of choice in no time at all. Given its hardiness in the cold, growing purple sprouting also means more fresh vegetables during those cold winter months—meaning that the best way to get your greens is by going purple.