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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019

Pretty much every pest wants to eat it - so here's how to grow perfect broccoli

Broccoli – or ‘calabrese’ – is relatively handy to grow and can be succession sown, so you can crop almost all summer and autumn.

Michael Kelly

THE STANDARD ‘BROCCOLI’ that we buy in shops with the big green tightly-packed head is actually called calabrese. It is quite quick growing and harvesting around now (since the summer).

“Sprouting broccoli” is a different vegetable – it produces small florets in purple or white varieties and is traditionally harvested in winter and spring (standing in the ground for almost a year).

Calabrese is relatively handy to grow and can be succession sown so that you can crop almost all summer and autumn long.


Sow three or four plants indoors in late March, the same in early May and again in early June. Sow two seeds per module in a module tray about 2cm deep. If both seeds germinate, remove the weaker one. The seedlings will be ready to transplant in a month. You can sow a couple of plants in early March indoors for an early polytunnel/greenhouse crop.


Include calabrese and sprouting broccoli in your brassica rotation – do not grow them anywhere that you have grown any member of the cabbage family the previous year. Plant them in soil that has been manured well the previous autumn. Space plants 15cm apart in rows that are 30cm apart. Water well and frequently and keep the base of the plants weed free. If the plant dries out you will get a low yield. An occasional liquid feed made from nettles will help give the plants the nitrogen they need.


It will be ready to harvest 3-4 months after sowing so you should get your first calabrese crop in early July. Start harvesting by cutting the central head before any of its flowers open and while it is 10cm diameter or less. Once this is removed, smaller side shoots will develop. The more you cut, the more it will produce. It should go on cropping for 4-6 weeks after first harvest.

Recommended Varieties

Fiesta, Marathon and Tiara.


Calabrese is susceptible to the same issues as cabbage and other brassicas. In other words, pretty much everything wants to eat it.

GIY Tips

  1. When the plant is coming close to harvest, check them every few days – the flower heads quickly move beyond the densely packed stage (at which they are perfect) and open up in to yellow flowers. They will look pretty then but they are useless from a GIY perspective.
  2. Wider spacing (45cm) between plants will produce larger central heads but you get less plants per square metre.

Recipe of the Week – Broccoli Salad

I like this recipe from Jamie’s America for a healthy broccoli salad bursting with flavors – I mean you can’t go too far wrong with broccoli and bacon…

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY. You can learn more about growing, and shop for seeds and gardening accessories, on the GIY website.

Read: It’s hard to find great quality lettuce in supermarkets – but it’s really easy to grow yourself >

Read: Claytonia: Not a metal band – a super-food you can grow in your back garden >

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Michael Kelly

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