An increasing number of gardeners are interested in extending their growing season and growing as many vegetables as they can year-round. With the help of cold frames, row covers, mini hoop houses and other season extenders, gardeners even in the extreme north can see at least a few different vegetable crops through the winter. If you’re one of those gardeners who like to push the envelope, consider adding purple sprouting broccoli to your overwintering repertoire.
What Is Purple Sprouting Broccoli?
Much like traditional green broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli provides edible flower bud clusters. But instead of producing big, green heads, this broccoli produces small, bright purple florets. It’s a special strain of broccoli that grows best and is the most productive in late summer, autumn and winter.
How To Grow Purple Sprouting Broccoli
To get the best results from most varieties of purple sprouting broccoli, seeds should be sown indoors under lights in early to mid-spring. Seedlings are then transplanted into the garden four to six weeks later. Another alternative is to sow the seeds directly into the garden anytime from March through June, though they’ll take a bit longer to mature and probably won’t produce a harvest until the following spring.
Be sure to pick a variety bred for its prowess at overwintering. Good choices include Bonarda, Mendocino, Santee, Early Purple Sprouting and Rioja. The plants will continue to grow through the autumn, and many times they’ll produce a nice crop of purple florets through the fall and well into winter. In fact, some gardeners can harvest fresh shoots from the plants all winter long.
Plants reach a height of three to four feet with an equal spread, so give them plenty of room to grow. Mulch plants with a layer of straw or shredded leaves to limit weed pressure and maintain soil moisture levels. If cabbageworms become problematic, use a Bt-based product (Bacillus thuringiensis) to manage them.
How To See Purple Sprouting Broccoli Through The Winter
When cold temperatures arrive, cover the plants with a mobile cold frame, a double layer of row cover or a miniature hoop house, if you live where temperatures regularly dip below 10 degrees F. Many gardeners in areas that don’t get that cold find the plants will even overwinter with just a thick layer of straw mulch over their root zone.
As early spring arrives, slowly remove the extra protection around the plants. They’ll begin to produce more shoots and will have their heaviest production the year after they’ve been planted. Harvest the flower clusters before they open, and continue to make regular harvests; the more you pick, the more side-shoots the plant will produce.
With any luck, your purple sprouting broccoli plants will give you months of harvests. Enjoy their delicious, mild broccoli flavor, their gorgeous color and the nutrients they provide at a time when other homegrown crops are hard to come by.