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Grow your own broccoli
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Broccoli is a vegetable that many home gardeners can produce successfully in Georgia.

It is a cool-season crop that can be planted in early spring or fall.

Broccoli is a member of the Brassica family and is closely related to cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Broccoli is known to be a healthy food and may potentially reduce certain types of cancer.

For a late spring broccoli harvest, start seeds indoors, or in a greenhouse or cold frame, in early February. The new seedlings need to be "hardened off" before being planted in March. Do this by leaving the seedlings outside for a few hours each day for three days. Then, leave the plants out overnight for several more nights. The broccoli seedlings should then be hardy enough for planting in the ground.

Broccoli can also be started indoors in late July for a fall harvest. The seedlings should be planted in the garden by the end of August. Try varieties such as Bravo, Decathlon, Marathon, Packman, Patriot and Premium Crop.

Broccoli can grow in many different soil types, but it prefers a well-drained soil high in organic matter. Broccoli does best in soils with a pH range between 6.0 and 6.8. For best results, a raised-bed garden is recommended, especially in our region's clay soils.

However, if you are planting broccoli in your home garden, be sure to add organic matter in the form of topsoil, manure or compost. This will increase the amount of available nutrients and also improve drainage.

When selecting a planting location in the garden, choose a spot with at least six to eight hours of sunlight. Till the soil to a depth of 8-10 inches and add organic matter.

A soil test should be done to determine the amount of nutrients needed for adequate plant growth. In the absence of a soil test, till in 3-4 pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet before planting. Broccoli seedlings should be spaced 18 to 20 inches apart.

Broccoli has fairly high water needs. Irrigate every day for the first week for proper establishment. After the first week, water the plants every four to five days to keep them healthy.

Broccoli is a heavy feeder and will require additional nutrients throughout the growing season. Apply 2 pounds of 5-10-15 fertilizer per 100 square feet every month during growth.

Harvest broccoli heads when the florets around the edge of the head starts to loosen, but the center is still tightly packed. Cut the stems at an angle to reduce water loss for additional harvesting. After the initial harvest, the stems will continue to produce small secondary heads. Cook or refrigerate broccoli heads soon after harvesting to preserve freshness.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.