Beefy Broccoli

How we grow strong, abundant broccoli during the winter in Italy.

by Rick Gush
broccoli in Italy

Photo by Rick Gush

All signs point to a super-abundant crop of broccoli this year.

We’ve only planted about 50 broccoli plants in the garden this year, but there are some really sturdy plants among the crop, and all signs point to another super-abundant broccoli crop again this winter.

Creating a good start for young plants is the best gardening technique I know. If the young plants have superior momentum coming at the time of planting and then continue that momentum in the garden, the results will be optimal.

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A lot of people I know insist upon starting their own seedlings. I think they often cause trouble for themselves in this manner. Seeds are fairly tough customers; they will germinate, even in non-optimal conditions, such as dim light. Unfortunately, seedlings that have experienced a period of low light will grow thin and spindly, and when these skinny seedlings are set out in the garden, they won’t have the same chance of success as the more robust seedlings. I always tell people that if you’re going to start seeds in the house, make sure you have some hefty artificial lighting. I recommend at least 40 watts per square foot.

The next trick to growing super vegetables is to feed them like a madman. In the case of these monster broccoli plants, I think the handful of manure underneath each planting hole was the winning trick. I usually mix in manure, either fresh, several weeks in advance, or processed on the day of planting. However, for these plants, I also added a handful of manure 7 inches below the surface. I think having more manure down below the surface is very effective. Farmers here in Italy have told me to use a handful of hoof and horn meal under the surface. The load of phosphorus and potassium really helps with the growth of strong root systems.

I’ve also been using a lot of liquid fertilizer on the crops this fall. I use manure tea when I have it, but I’ll admit I use the non-organic powdered stuff sometimes, too. In any case, I like to spray it on the leaves, not just on the ground. Making the manure tea is pretty easy, but hauling the fresh manure up to the garden is inevitable a messy affair, so I don’t always do it as often as I should.

The broccoli crop also had the benefit of organic iron sulphate snail pellets when they were young, and I’ve already sprayed Bacillus thuringiensis three times as prevention against the cabbage worms. Some days, I see dozens of cabbage white butterflies flitting around the plants, so I know there’s a bunch of cabbage-worm eggs among the plantings. I like how well Bt works. I’m not sure exactly how Bt lives and survives once it is sprayed on the plants, but re-treatment after rains seems to be the prudent move.

Read more of Rick’s Favorite Crops »

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