Growing Broccoli in Melbourne

What should I grow? Types of Broccoli:

  • In Australia, the crops that are most commonly referred to as broccoli are varieties with large green heads and thick stalks. These types often produce smaller sprouting broccoli like side shoots once the main head is harvested.
  • Sprouting or Bunching Broccoli’s (usually green or purple) are broccoli’s which don’t produce a large single head, instead they produce large amounts of side shoots often on long stems. The term ‘Calabrese’ often refers to sprouting broccoli.
  • Romanesco broccoli is a different 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 standard 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.

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 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 though– 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.

Broccoli usually takes about 4-5 months to produce flower heads when grown from seed, and 2-3 months from seedling stage.

Harvesting broccoli:

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. 

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).

Pests – Aphids:

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 I 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.

Pests – 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 at 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.

Pests – rats and mice

Rodents seem to love broccoli and I’ve had them eat both flower heads and leaves. Keeping them at bay is a constant challenge, and I don’t have many solutions, although you can read more about my battles with rodents here.

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