It probably won’t take too much convincing to get people to grow broccoli. It’s a favorite of the garden and almost never goes to waste. But in case you need convincing: broccoli has about twice the vitamin C that an orange has. It is also loaded with calcium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin E, has incredible anti-oxidant properties and is considered a good anti-cancer vegetable.
Prepare soil for broccoli well: lots of organic material. Fish emulsion is an excellent food. Start seeds in August to be ready to be planted in September. This is a cool season crop. An early start won’t create perfect plants because they really like cooler weather but it will give you a head start and will produce some decent heads. You will need lots of room for broccoli. The plants can take up a bit of space. I always suggest to keep in mind planting in succession so you have a steady supply, especially of veggies you want lots of. If you plant about 18 inches apart you should have enough room. Planting broccolini and rapini is a little different. They are planted closer together because they do not get as wide. Follow instructions on seed packets for each variety.
Some varieties, once you cut off the head, will produce more off-shoots or buttons. Some won’t. Usually the larger-headed varieties are less likely to sprout buttons. If you keep seeding transplants every few weeks, you won’t need to bother doing this. You can just compost the plants and plant new transplants.
I have mentioned before that some plants like being seeded directly in the ground. With broccoli this is not as important so long as you don’t molest the roots while planting. Be gentle. And it’s advantageous to put transplants slightly deeper in the ground than they were in the containers. This is death to other types of plants so don’t make a habit of this, but for broccoli it helps.
Usually the part of broccoli we eat is the thickened stalk of flower buds. Many people who haven’t grown broccoli don’t realize that the green stalk you are so familiar with is indeed a FLOWER stalk, and produces many little yellow flowers. Pick broccoli when the individual buds are still tight and the head is at the mature size each variety is determined at. The exception to this is Rapini (discussed below) which is often used with open buds and flowers. Asian broccoli, also discussed below, is often used before it even buds (the leaves are more important).
Besides the more familiar broccoli varieties you might try broccolini. It possesses all the same nutritional benefits as regular broccoli but you can also eat the stems (with regular broccoli, stems are more tough unless you trim off the tough skin). They are delicious cooked up with asparagus.
Rapini or broccoli raab is an unusual alternative. It really looks like it is related to broccoli, but it is actually it’s own species (Brassica rapa). This is interesting because broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel’s sprouts, and collard greens are all the same species (selected by humans over thousands of years), Brassica oleracea. That Rapini would look so similar to broccoli just makes you realize you can’t trust your eyes with it comes to understanding genetic relationships between species. Originating from the Mediterranean, Rapini is usually sauteed with garlic and butter or used in Asian stir fry.
Broccolini is much thinner than standard broccoli. Seed can be expensive but there are varieties like broccolini that work just fine.
Purple broccoli is gorgeous in the garden and raw and there are several varieties available, but I have the color doesn’t hold well after cooking . I usually only grow a few of these just for a nice raw broccoli to dip.
Romanesco is probably my favorite variety. It is straight-up gorgeous. Technically it’s really a cauliflower but I am including it with the broccolis because it look cool and because I can! At some point I will address cauliflowers. I intentionally didn’t want to mix the two.
Asian culture always finds unthinkable things to do with the more familiar crops. Many Asian broccoli varieties are encouraging leaf growth, and plants are sometimes harvested before they even start to bud. These are used in stir fry as well. Some produces minimal buds but as with rapini, the leaves are eaten.