Battling the Aphids – Growing Broccoli

Apparently the name broccoli comes from Italian broccolo, which means something like: ‘the flowering top of a cabbage’.  I read this on Wikipedia – I love Wikipedia – I find that even if the info on there isn’t true its usually entertaining enough for the truth not to matter.  This is a case in point; I like the idea that all over the English speaking world there are people referring to ‘the flowering top of a cabbage’ without even knowing they are doing so.  “Please pass the flowering top of a cabbage“, “Would you like more flowering top of a cabbage“, “I’d like a side order of flowering top of a cabbage with oyster sauce”.  So regardless of the accuracy of this particular piece of Wiki knowledge I am more than happy to think it might be true.  Actually I think that Wikipedia is supposedly more reliable than the ABC, but then again maybe that’s something I read on Wikipedia…..

But I digress and for no good reason as I love broccoli, unfortunately my partner hates broccoli – a textural thing he says.  I grow it anyway though.  My partners dislike not withstanding, of all the Brassicas (brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes amongst others are all Brassicas), I do think its the easiest to get kids to like.  Particularly if you call it trees, which is not particularly accurate – buds would be more so but that sounds a bit too try hard to be cool for me liking.  “Hey kids, Eat your buds!” – sounds alot like an ad for some appalling breakfast cereal, so trees it is.  And trees they like – particularly when smothered in a suitably salty Asian sauce of some description (I think that not giving them much in the way of salt in their other meals means that when they get some they go a bit crazy and will even eat foodstuffs that are green).

What should I grow? Types of Broccoli:

  • What is most commonly referred to as broccoli in Australia are those varieties with large green heads and thick stalks, like the one pictured above.
  • Sprouting or Bunching Broccoli’s (usually green or purple) are broccoli’s which don’t produce a largehead, instead they produce large amounts of side shoots often on long stems.
  • Romanesco broccoli is not actually the same sub species of brassica and is more like Cauliflower in both texture and growing habit.
  • Broccoli Raab (also known as Rabe) is also a different sub species and tastes more bitter than broccoli.
  • Chinese broccoli (Kai Lan) is more similar to Broccoli Raab in flavour than to the other broccolis.
  • Broccolini is a hybrid mix of Broccoli and Kai Lan.

What is Calabrese?

Well this seems to depend on who you ask.  I have bought sprouting broccoli under the banner Calabrese and I have bought seeds called Calabrese which produce plants that were indistinguishable from the usual large headed varieties.  In general – if the person you are talking to is a cook they are more likely to be talking about a sprouting broccoli but if the person is a gardener or is selling seeds the plant could be either sprouting or regular broccoli.

The name Calabrese comes from the name of an Italian province (Calabria), which is possibly where the large headed broccoli variety was developed.   If this is true then that is the one to call Calabrese. However the most popular variety in that part of Italy is probably Purple Sprouting broccoli – so perhaps that should be called Calabrese.   I have also heard it said that strictly speaking Calabrese describes broccoli varieties with green heads while broccoli should only be used for those with purple or white.   Confused?  I am.   In the end it probably doesn’t matter a great deal as long as you know what you are growing.

Growing Broccoli

In theory Broccoli can be grown pretty much all year round in Melbourne provided you pick the right varieties.  Having said that though I think it is far easier as a winter crop as during the warmer months keeping the pests away from it can amount to a full time job.  It also takes up a fair amount of space so to grow it during summer you would have to either; have a lot of space or really really like it.

For most varieties it is recommended to sow seeds between early summer and mid autumn.  There are quite large variations between varieties thought– I have seen varieties which you can sow as early as October and others as late as August  (so pretty much all year then…) but all are able to be sown December/January so if you don’t know what seed you have try it then to be on the safe side.

This year I am growing two types of broccoli – Purple Sprouting and Green Dragon.   I acquired both as seedlings (thanks dad!) which I planted out in March.  Broccoli usually takes about 4-5 months to produce flower heads when grown from seed, and 2-3 months from seedling stage so the plants are pretty much on target.

Unlike many other Brassicas broccoli can be a pick and come again crop making it ideal for the home garden.  Once you remove the central flowering stalk the plant will generally produce smaller side shoots which can also be harvested.  The picture below shows side shoots developing:

This can go on for a couple of months with the side shoots gradually getting smaller.  As a result you can get away with one mass broccoli planting.  However what is probably a better bet if you want to have broccoli from early winter the mid-late Spring would be to sow seed in both December and March and have some early and some late plants.

Broccoli seems to have a large number of predators (is that the right world when it’s a plant?).  It is loved by both Cabbage White Butterflies and Aphids and I have found many a stalk and flower head devoured by what I am presuming is mice (or possibly rats).


I find the aphids are most active in late Spring and Summer, so to avoid them infesting the flower heads it is easiest to treat the plant as a winter/early Spring crop.  It can be nigh on impossible to remove them from the flowerhead without some form of insecticide once they take up  residence.  Although if anyone has any ideas on this it would be much appreciated!!!!

If you are determined to grow it at other times (and I love broccoli so understand why you would ) then you will need to inspect your plants regularly and to develop some
techniques for keeping the aphids at bay (or be happy to eat them).  If they attack the plant before it sets flowers blasting them off with water has worked fine for me, however they hide in the flower heads and once they get in that technique doesn’t work as
well.  I am always hesitant to use insecticide (even organic ones) on aphids in case I kill a ladybird (ladybirds favourite meal is aphids so if you have a lot of ladybirds your problem is probably solved)  however if you are sure you don’t have ladybirds around then pyrethrum seems to work well on aphids.

Cabbage White Butterflies:

Most active in the Spring and Autumn, cabbage white butterflies can totally destroy your plants – particularly when they are at a young seedling stage.  I deploy two
methods for keeping them at bay.

  1. Inspect the plants regularly.  Pick off any caterpillars and dispatch them.  They like to hide up the veins of the leaves so take particular care there. Also running your fingers over the leaves to squish any eggs that have been laid is a good preventative measure. The eggs look like tiny raised white/yellow lines and are a couple of mm long (funnily enough I think there is an egg I missed visible on the broccoli photo above, it is near the bottow of the photo about half way across and 2cm up from the bottom.)
  2. Protect your plants are seedling stage by covering the plant.  I use 2 litre plastic bottles (soft drink ones) and cut off the bottom and use the top section as a cloche for the plant.  They look a bit silly but better that than shredded leaves from caterpillar attack.

Other predators:

I’m afraid I have no great solution to the problem of rodents.  Last year they ate pretty much all my broccoli heads and quite a number of stems.  This happened in Spring, so I am hoping that they will stay away at least until then – so far they have this year – perhaps there are more interesting food sources…..

Interestingly they ate the central stalk from one of my plants at a fairly young age.  This plant went on to produce four reasonable size flower heads and heaps of side shoots, unfortunately what the mice didn’t eat was so infested by aphids that it was inedible anyway.  However it might be a worth while experiment to prune the broccoli plant of its main stem fairly early on and see if it increases production as in this case it did seem to.

This entry was posted in Autumn Planting, Brassicas, Pests and Diseases, Spring Harvesting, Summer Planting, Winter Harvesting, Winter Planting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Battling the Aphids – Growing Broccoli

  1. eugene gardener says:

    How to solve your partner’s dislike of broccoli: peel the stalks and cut them into chunks. They are delicious steamed with the rest of the broccoli, and there isn’t the textural problem. (I don’t like the texture of the tops either, and give most of them to my husband. He doesn’t like the stems, so it works out perfectly.)

  2. Robbie says:

    The rodents are the easiest of all, get a cat.

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