The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Home grown Purple Sprouting broccoli

Photo of our purple sprouting brocolli grown by us and ready to harvest

Purple sprouting broccoli is easy to grow

If more people tasted home grown purple sprouting broccoli they would surely cultivate it. You would see it on London balconies, in country herbaceous borders and standing proud in every kitchen garden in the land. Home grown does not have the slight limpness and bitterness of the supermarket stuff. It’s sweet and delicate and melt in the mouth.

The only problem with this vegetable is that it takes a year to mature. The seeds are planted towards the end of April and the long-ish wait puts people off. I reckon most people plant it, loose the seed packet and when it is not producing florets in the autumn the plants are hoiked out and thrown into the compost bin. It has the reputation of being a difficult vegetable. It is easy. Best germinated and grown on before planting out, it requires very little attention. It attracts the cabbage white butterfly and once you have dealt with this it is basically plain sailing until the harvest in the Spring. The only problem is that you don’t have enough.

To get a decent harvest, with many forays down the garden trug in hand, you need at least twelve plants and these take up quite a bit of space (2′-3′ apart 2.5′- 3.5′ between rows). The cropping season is short (four weeks), but you can extend this by harvesting regularly and growing early and late varieties. Then you can feast from March until well into May.

Despite these drawbacks I wouldn’t dream of not growing purple sprouting broccoli. At the moment we foster John Coe’s donated plants (mid season). They can be blanched and frozen, which I think I might do this year.
Broccoli is a cut and come again vegetable. The more you crop the more it produces. We didn’t twig this the first year and the season was so short that even the optimistic Danny was a bit disappointed.

The purple bobbles on the florets are in fact buds. If you leave them on the plant they will open into tiny flowers and the plant will not produce any more florets.

It’s one of the most flavoursome of vegetables. It stands beside asparagus and globe artichokes in my book. But at this time of year it is the first tasty, fresh surprise. Rushed from the kitchen garden to simmering saucepan, it’s a delight. I’m not keen on loads of veg but I love these tasty heads in a stir fry or snuggled beside slices of one of Danny’s superb Sunday roasts. It’s also heartening to see the plants standing stoically throughout the winter when most of the kitchen garden is bare.

It was so dry last summer that our purple sprouting broccoli went in very late (end of August). The plants are not nearly as big as last year. A couple of weeks ago they showed no signs of sprouting when John Coe and I examined them. This morning I spotted the first purple heads as I nipped past to open the greenhouse door.

I rushed back to the house to trumpet the news. Danny was shaving and gave the sort of resonant shriek that should always herald the arrival of this wonderful vegetable.

White sprouting broccoli is worth growing too. It has a more delicate taste than the purple but is less hardy.

Unwins has a good PSB variety available here.
Also Thompson and Morgan are always worth checking out as they stock several varieties including the white one.

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  1. Michael Brookman

    I’ve grown purple sprouting for 40-50 years at least, always organically, these days, no digging, but covering the soil with chippings from trees and shrubs, which nourishes the soil and retains more moisture. What’s with this ‘four plants per person stuff’? For two of us I grow about 40-50 plants and we thoroughly enjoy all that grows, and yes, sharing some with our family. It’s now late-ish October 2016 and because my lush plants often grow very leggy I’m going to try snipping out the growing point of some of them to see if they will bush out more, as many other plants do. I can’t find any site that refers to this possibility, so next Spring I’ll try to remember to report back how things went. At a very healthy 78 I still practice as a herbalist, iridologist and natural diet advisor. I discovered about four years ago the importance of the bacteria in the soil and our bodies, the health promoting ones which can only be maintained by using natural materials on the soil and eating plenty of organic, fresh fruit and vegetables. Hope all this might be an inspiration to readers. Michael Brookman. Sth Devon.

  2. Help!I bought six PSB plants last August2015 in B&Q and planted them in my small raised bed. They are 3ft + tall now and very healthy. But it’s now June 2016 and still no sign of a purple sprout. Should I just give up and plant something else ?

    • Danny Carey

      Doesn’t sound good, to be honest. The purple sprouting shoots should have appeared between Feb-Apr.

  3. Clare

    I planted this for the first time last year and for the last 2 months have enjoyed endless supplies of delicious psb, also giving it away and freezing some (not yet sure how that will turn out). I think I’ve been lucky, reading about people’s problems with pests as I only had aphids on one plant out of about 10, and they didn’t spread. My question now is – (I’m not a proper gardener!) – once they are flowering and I can’t keep up with picking them, which is now for most of the plants, is that it? Do I dig them up and start all over again? Or do plants produce shoots again if left in the ground? Do you cut them down or do they self seed or anything – excuse ignorance – or is it time to get shot of them now? Thanks

  4. rebecca

    i did an experiment and cut off the entire purple floret head on a few PSB, it has been 4 weeks and the plant do nothing, no new shoot. then i cut off just the top few floret and left the florets on the bottom alone on other few PSB, the bottom florets grew immediately with very long stems, which i cut and enjoyed. there are more purple bits coming out from the main stem. i think cutting the top floret and leave the bottom florets alone is better.

  5. Hello ! I have three PSB’s in my garden, and, you say you can pick the florets at about 2 cm ? I also have shoots forming underneath the main stem. So, would it ok to cut the main stem now? Or am I too early as it’s only just turning into February? Many, many thanks

  6. Alan Springell

    Thanks for your help everyone.
    I decided that my mistake was sowing sprouting broccoli at the wrong time of the year and I am not prepared to see this thing through for another 6 months. So I pulled out 80% of the crop and for the remainder I cut the head off the plants just as an experiment. One of them started sprouting immediately but the others are still confused and have done nothing. Now the challenge is to protect the sprouting from caterpillar. When I sow the seeds in 4 months time to grow the crop through our Australian winter I hope to miss the cabbage white and get a fast and early cropping of sprouting broccoli. Let’s see.

  7. I live in the souteastern United States and have been interested in trying PSB. Unfortunately there is little information that I can find on this vegetable in general and nothing that I can find anywhere concerning growing under the hot and humid conditions where I live.

    I would be afraid to plant a cole crop of any kind in the middle of July as you do with PSB in England. Do you think a young PSB transplant could withstand the harsh summer conditions of my climate? Should I plant out in September instead with hopes for a Springtime harvest? Any other considerations and adjustments that I might want to make in growing this vegetable?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Brad

      I reckon that if you planted it out in September it should do well and put on enough growth before the weather cools. Love to hear how you get on if you try doing this!

  8. My Dad used to grow these on his allotment when I was a child. I love them, but they do use a lot of space in a small garden, so we didn’t grow them in the gardens of our first two homes. Now we have the space.
    Mine suffer from two predators
    1. My husband, who won’t eat them anyway, and who feels that they will come to nothing, and wishes to pull them up.
    2. Pigeons, who have very little else to peck at over the winter.
    So we construct a “cage” with canes about a metre high about every metre around the patch and cover it with netting, using pegs to attack it to the canes and pegs pushed into the ground to anchor it – and there it sits and develops all winter. Can’t wait to eat it. The pegs once dried out are re-used the next year.

  9. This is my first season growing them. What I have noticed is that the first floret takes the longest to grow. I did nip some and let some alone to see the difference. Based on my opinion, I wouldn’t nip them. FYI, to cook them, the best way is heat up some olive oil and then stir fry them. Add salt and pepper and a bit of oyster sauce for taste. My PSB were attacked by aphids, which you can use a simple organic spray (garlic, chili, detergent, etc…google the recipe) does the trick.

    • Jessie Allaway

      Can anyone advise me. I planted out my purple summer sprouting broccoli in May and have been cropping it for the last couple of weeks. I didn’t expect them to produce heads until late Sept or so and carry on into the spring next year. I assume I sowed and planted much too early. If I cut the plants back down the main stem can you tell me if they will crop again later or just die. Beginner.

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