September 11, 2010

Grow your own Sprouting Broccoli 2010

Sprouting broccoli seedsPLANT: ‘Purple Sprouting Early’ Broccoli

An extremely easy to grow hardy winter vegetable which crops when little else is available in the garden.  Sturdy 12-18in plants produce a heavy crop of tasty purple heads and young leaves (which turn green when cooked) during late winter/early Spring.  These should crop through to mid April, freeing the ground for spring crops.

I love “normal” broccoli (calabrese) but I thought I’d try sprouting broccoli as I like the idea of being able to cut off just what I need, rather than cutting off a whole head.


Useful websites:


Sow under cover: March - May 1st Mar
Sow direct: April - May  
Germination time: 7-10 days 7th Mar
Plant out: June - July 26th May
Harvest: January - April  
Time from seed to plate: 40 weeks  


  • Sow 2cm deep.
  • Thin out seedlings when 2.5cm tall to about 7.5cm apart in the rows.


  • When the first two true leaves have formed and the plants are 7cm tall, transplant them into 7.5cm pots filled with potting compost and plant them into these pots a little deeper to just below the two leaves and water in well.
  • Transplant seedlings when they are 10 - 15cm tall, leaving 45cm between rows and 45cm between plants. The day before planting in their permanent position, water the soil where they will be planted. Transplant them firmly, 2.5cm deeper than when they were in their pots.


  • Protect from birds and other pests.
  • Water regularly especially in dry conditions.
  • From time to time feed the growing Broccoli with a liquid fertiliser.


  • Cut the main head early and the plants will continue to produce numerous small side heads through to late spring.  Continuous steady harvesting is essential to maximise the harvest.

I’ve sowed 4 seeds indoors in my windowsill propagator, as I only expected to be able to fit 1 plant in my raised bed along with the peas, beans, tomatoes and spinach. But I might be able to plant more as I won’t have to plant out the sprouting broccoli until June/July, when hopefully some of the other vegetables will have finished cropping and been harvested.
March 7th:
07-03 Broccoli sprouted The sprouting broccoli seeds were the next to germinate after the mange tout peas. They’re already 2.5cm tall and I need to prick them out into 7cm pots when they’re about 5cm tall, so I haven’t got long to wait. I will need to plant them into these pots a little deeper - to just below the two leaves and water in well.
Apparently if they get too warm then they will produce tall, weak seedlings that will not develop to there full potential, so they will need to be kept in a cool light position. This is a bit of a problem as I need to keep the propagator warm if my chilli seeds are to germinate!
March 13th:

13-03 Broccoli My sprouting broccoli seedlings are looking very ropey indeed! As I haven’t been at home I haven’t been able to turn the propagator around and they’ve been leaning towards the light. They’re about the right height for pricking out into bigger individual pots but I ran out of them as I had to repot the peas and beans. Hopefully I can get some more before they outgrow the propagator.


March 21st:
21-03 sprouting broccoli I didn’t manage to get any more pots, so the sprouting broccoli are still in the propagator and they’re now 8cm tall. They’re looking slightly perkier than before and they’re developing more leaves, but I really do need to thin them out and get them into individual pots!





06-04 broccoli 2

I think I was a bit late in transplanting the broccoli seedlings as they’ve had their set of true leaves for quite a while now. But I didn’t have anymore 7.5cm pots and it’s been miserable outside, so I had to put off the move. But yesterday I bought more pots and the weather was dry, if a bit windy!


The photo shows them still in the propagator and how they need support. They’re now 10cm tall and apparently they should be planted in their final positions at this height. But I’m going to leave them in their individual pots until they’re a bit bigger.


I planted them in their pots to just below the seed leaves. This means that they’re not so weak and spindly and will hopefully grow into a stronger plant.




15-04 Broccoli

Well I don’t think the broccoli seedlings have made much progress in the last 9 days. They’re 5cm tall but the leaves don’t look any bigger to me. But since they’re not meant to be planted outside until June/July I’m not too worried about their progress. I still need to decide if they’re going to be planted in the raised bed or in separate large pots.








26-04 Sprouting broccoli

Both my seedlings are dying! I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong, it’s possible I over-watered them or it’s too hot for them on the windowsill above the radiator.








26-04 New Sprouting Broccoli Luckily Steve’s sister bought some seedlings from the market and she had too many so she gave me 3. They’re absolutely huge (18cm) compared to my pathetic specimens (6cm) so I can really see how far behind my seedlings were in terms of growth. I did have a better idea of how big the seedlings should be before planting out after watching episode 3 of the BBC programme The Edible Garden. When Alys Fowler planted out her seedlings they were much bigger than the ones Steve’s sister has given me. But fingers crossed they should be that size by June/July if I don’t manage to kill them first!

May 26th:

26-5 Broccoli

A few days after my last post I re-potted the sprouting broccoli plants into bigger pots. These aren’t their final pots as I believe they need quite a bit of space to grow, so I’ll probably be re-potting them a couple of times over the next couple of months before planting them in the raised bed once everything else has been harvested.


Anyway, they seemed to really appreciate the re-potting as they’ve grown quite a bit. Steve’s sister said her seedlings haven’t grown much at all because she’s kept them in the same pots as when she bought them and she was amazed at how big mine were! She’s put off re-potting hers because she wants to put them straight into large pots and she doesn’t want the hassle of re-potting in stages. But I think it’s worth the effort as these plants seem to dry out really quickly and definitely need more space to grow successfully.


[I’m sorry to say that the seedlings I grew from seed have pretty much died! I’m not sure what went wrong, but I’m just glad that I was given some healthy plants so I didn’t miss out on growing this vegetable!]


19th June:

19-06 PSB

All my PSB plants are doing really well and are growing big and strong. I’ve re-potted two of the biggest ones again today as they were drying out so quickly in their plastic pots. I put one in a Tub Trug and another in a terracotta pot. I’ve also tied them to wooden canes for support.


I’m delighted to say that one of them has produced this beautiful purple sprout already! Only another 7-10 months to wait before I get to eat any!



4th July:

04-07 PSB stems

I wasn’t really sure how the sprouting broccoli would grow on the plant. I’d suspected that the spears would shoot out from the middle of the plant and I was right. I’m a bit concerned that they’re growing like this already, as I thought they weren’t ready to harvest until after January. So I’m not really sure what to do!


The seeds I’d bought were an early variety, but Steve’s sister gave me these seedlings so I’m not sure what variety they are. More research will have to be done!


They’re fast outgrowing their pots, so another transplant will have to be done. Hopefully I will have some clear space in the raised bed after everything else has been harvested.






6th July:

06-07 PSB flower

This plant has started to flower! From what I’ve read I’m pretty sure this is not a good thing, as it means the spears are not so good for eating. So I cut them off and I left them on the kitchen counter to eat later, just to see what they were like. But when I got home I found out Steve’s Mum had fed them to the tortoise! Ah well, hopefully it enjoyed them! I’ve got more spears growing, but they’re very thin.



Steve’s sister said she doesn’t know the variety of this PSB, the label just said to harvest in the Spring. So I’m very confused!


11th July:

11-07 PSB caterpillar eggs

This is the first time I’ve grown anything from the brassica family, so the whole fight against caterpillars is a new concept.


I’ve seen plenty of the white cabbage butterflies fluttering around and they’ve been laying their eggs all over my PSB. They lay their eggs underneath the leaves, so it takes some time to turn over all the leaves to find them. Plus the eggs are absolutely tiny (shown against my thumbnail), so they’re easy to miss. They fall off the leaves very easily though, so I just run a tissue over the whole leaf to get rid of them.


11-07 PSB caterpillar

The caterpillars are also very small so they’re hard to spot. This one (also shown against my thumbnail) is actually one of the bigger ones I found. Their colour is so close to that of the leaves that they are very well camouflaged. Wiping the tissue over the leaves squishes them quite effectively though!








11th September:

11-09 PSB caterpillars

The neglect of my Purple Sprouting Broccoli on my blog is unfortunately indicative of the neglect they have received in the garden. I haven’t been on caterpillar patrol for a couple of months and I haven’t even looked at my PSB, so today I was quite shocked to see how badly eaten they had become. All the leaves are basically torn to shreds and when I spotted 10 (yes, 10!!) caterpillars hanging off of one completely decimated leaf, I knew that I had to take swift action! I must have spent about 15 minutes checking every leaf and swishing loads of caterpillars, all at different growing stages of their life. Hopefully it’s not too late for the plants to recover and continue growing over winter. I will have to make more effort more regularly to kill these bloody caterpillars!


11-09 PSB

Despite my lame efforts, the plants are growing quite tall and I’m pretty amazed actually at how big they are. This one doesn’t have any canes for support at the moment and it’s doing a grand job of staying upright all by itself. I’m sure I will need to add some canes soon though as it’s getting more windy outside as Autumn/Winter approaches.


I’ve moved another plant into the raised bed as it looked like it was outgrowing its pot/trug. I added some water crystals/fertiliser pellets to give it a bit of a boost…






11-09 PSB leaves

… because some of the lower leaves are turning purple. I have no idea if this is normal or a nutrient deficiency, because some plants do change colour when the seasons change. For example the leaves on my blueberry bushes change from green to all shades of red and brown in the Autumn. I’ll have to do a bit more research on why the leaves on Purple Sprouting Broccoli turn purple, which isn’t an easy search on Google, as you just get pages on Purple Sprouting Broccoli!


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