Broccoli! Broccoli!

 

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As long as I’ve had a real garden, I’ve grown broccoli.  Sometimes not so successfully, but every year, I’ve had some growing.  A lot of it is probably my attraction to broccoli cheese soup, but also, it is really easy to grow.  Whether you start your own seeds or buy some starts at a nursery, you can grow it too!

I started my seeds back at the beginning of February, but my seedlings haven’t done very well inside.  They probably should have been further along by now, but I’m not too worried about it,  because I know they will make up for lost time fast outside.  Besides which, I have my little homemade milk jug plant guards to help them out.  With a family of seven, we go through a lot of milk.  Instead of recycling these milk jugs, I saved them and rinsed them out, and cut off the bottoms.  Then I cut the handle in half, and took off the top, including the cap.  You’ll see why the handle is important in a minute.

If you take care of them, you can save them and use them from year to year, but mine were getting old, so I needed new ones for most of mine this time.  I try really hard to use things that I have laying around the yard or the house for my garden.  I just don’t have the budget to go out and spend a lot of money on fancy row covers and things like that from garden supply catalogs and garden centers.  I also feel an obligation to reuse things whenever I can, and reduce our waste, and the amount going into our trash can.

At this point in the spring, my garden is still pretty empty.  I have radishes, spinach, carrots, and some lettuces going on the west end, but you can’t see them in this picture.  Broccoli and onions (coming soon in another post) always go in the garden in April.  I make sure I have a bale of straw, or some other kind of soft, easily moveable mulch ready before I plant my broccoli.

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I started my seeds in little peat pot squares, which break down a little in the soil after you transplant the seedling into the dirt.  I don’t think they break down all the way fast enough, so I always tear open the bottom of the pot before I put it in the hole.  I use a trowel or my hand to make a small hole, and pop it in.

Now you are ready for the milk jug.  I just set it directly over the freshly-planted broccoli seedling, and then I take a stick and drive it down through the open hole made in the handle.  I make sure it goes down into the ground so it holds the milk jug in place, even in pretty high winds.

From the overhead view, you can see the stick going down through the side.  At this point, you can mix some compost in with the soil if you haven’t done it already, or you can wait and mix something in with your water later.

After you finish planting and covering all your seedlings, it will look something like this, depending on how many plants you are doing.  I did 14 plants, because I have a big family, and we eat a lot of broccoli.  I plant them in pairs, in a long row, so that I will be able to lean over the plants later when they get bigger, and cut off the heads.

There are several advantages to the milk jug covers.  One, is that it protects the seedlings from predators.  I have a bunch of rabbits, and without this covering, the bunnies would come along and bite all these plants off at the base.  Bye Bye broccoli.  The milk jugs go up high enough that the bunnies can’t get to the plant without sticking their head down really far into jug, which most rabbits won’t do.  The milk jugs might help with deer to a point, but if deer are a problem for you, you might need a fence to keep them away because the jugs won’t help when the plants are much taller.

A second advantage is that in my full-sun garden, the milk jug provides a little bit more shade, except for when the sun is directly overhead.  That way the tender broccoli seedlings don’t get sunburnt while they are getting used to being outside, after being in my basement for their entire life thus far.

Next I take the mulch and place it in and around the milk jugs.  This helps to keep weeds down around my seedlings, and helps (along with the jugs) to hold some moisture in for the broccoli plants while they are getting their roots established.

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I will admit, I also like the way the rectangle of mulch makes the row look neater as well.  Which helps later on when the garden starts to look a little crazy in mid-late summer.

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Later on, when the plants get really big, and the stem of the plants get much thicker, you can remove the milk jugs if you want, and just fill the straw in around the plant.  I don’t usually take mine off, I leave it until the plants are done before winter, and then I stack them all up at the same time and put them away in my garden shed.

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Straw makes an excellent mulch I think, as long as it doesn’t have a lot of weed seeds in it.  Even if weeds do start growing in it, they are super easy to go along and yank them out when it is garden weeding day.  They don’t have the hold that a weed does in the bare ground.  Straw also biodegrades well in one garden year, so I don’t have to remove it from my garden.  By next spring, most of it will be broken down, and I usually till or shovel in what is left, working it into the soil to improve the texture and provide lots of organic matter.

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Later in the spring, I’ll post some pictures of how my broccoli plants are doing.  It is really exciting when you go out and one day, your little seeding has a baby broccoli head starting in the center.  I will make sure to water these seedlings every day that it doesn’t rain for a while, so that they don’t get dried out and die.

Have you ever planted broccoli in your garden?  What are your favorite broccoli recipes?  Please comment and share them with me!

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