The Cottage Smallholder

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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. Onionsargey

    Hi Rob,

    I tried to grow this last year and the plants were destroyed by caterpillars, I think they were cabbage white.
    What is the best way of protecting your plants form this menace?


    Onion Sargey

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Rob

    This has happened to me and it’s devastating. Here’s hoping that the shoots do their business well for you.

    We harvested a massive amount this year but you are right – you have to keep on top of the crop

    Thanks for dropping by..

  3. Hi, I planted this in the ground last year and harvested it a few weeks back, the best broccoli of those I’ve tasted in my opinion. I’m new to growing veg and checking the plant last night it’s flowered – I’m gutted :o( (Our son, myself and my partner have not been well over the last few weeks so we have taken our eye off the ball). I cut the flowered sections off and left the shoots that are yet to flourish, hope to get more as want to show this off to family and friends when entertaining.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Rich

    Snap off the central sprouting stem first as this encourages the side shoots to develop fast.

    You need to pick the heads and the stalk beneath, snapping them back to the central stem. You need to keep on top of the harvesting as once the heads flower your harvest is over. The more you harvest the more side shoots will appear. The harvest period can be as long as 6 weeks or even more.

    It freezes well too.

  5. I have several plants that are just starting to bud and i was wondering what I harvest and how much. I must admit I didn’t realise it matured in the Spring I just thought we has a very mild winter and they had oddly hung about. I suppose I need to know how much stalk to take as well as the Purple Buds. I can’t wait !! My Asparagus comes of age this year too ! Woohoo !

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Yes Ash, I was surprised when the broccoli that I was buying turned out to be calabrese.

    Angelfeet don’t pick off the purple sprouts as soon as they appear (they are tiny at first. We pick them when they are about 2cm diameter. Keep picking regularly to extend the season.

    Richard it’s worth giving PSB a go even just one row of plants. The difference between home grown and the shop stuff is like the difference between cheap Cava and good Champagne.

    Rosemary we love PSB and runner beans. Lucky you cropping PSB for the past three weeks. Thanks for dropping by.

  7. Rosemary

    My family have been growing purple sprouting ever since I can remember (I am sixty) and many years before that my Mother says.Together with runner beans it was my Husband’s favourite vegetable,we looked forward to it every year with great enthusiasm.Now I’m a widow and I share an old farmhouse with my daughter and son-in-law.I have introduced him to it(he is a Londoner) and had never grown veg until 2 years ago,he is now a great fan.We live in Norfolk and our plants have been cropping now for three weeks.

  8. Richard

    Wow – I didn’t realise it took so long to grow. We’re currently ‘thinking’ about what to do with our garden and are planning (possibly) to stick in a bunch of raised beds over the winter for next year’s dinners. I’d hoped some purple-sprouting could be one of my first succesess- instead it looks like I might have to wait until 2009!
    I’ll be pushed for space when it comes down to it – so can the rest of the plant be eaten? I’d be loathe to plant something that takes-up a lot of space but doesn’t produce that much (no matter how delicious!)

  9. angelfeet

    So you have to take the purple bobbles off? Is that as soon as they as they appear? I’ve got seeds, so will be putting them in soon.

  10. I’ll have to try this next year. This year I have ordinary broccoli (or calabrese) planned. Aren’t all these broccoli names confusing?

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