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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. Same here – I planted seed in a deep bed in March and one ( only one) of my PSB has produced florets and the central one is flowering . So its going to be PSB with the organic pork for Sunday Lunch tomorrow.

  2. I’m with James on this…though I have experience of both impatient plants and a long wait without results.

    Last year I planted out a little late, I think – July time. They grew ok but come June still nothing florets but I did have 5ft broccoli trees, with trunks 6cm in diameter. I eventually gave up on them and hauled them out of the ground.

    In April of this year I sowed more seeds. Then I struck lucky a couple of months back: I came across some Gourmet Brassica grow bags for £1 each (normally £4), so I grabbed about 20 and stuffed broccoli, cawliflower and sprouts into them – 6 plants to a bag. Brilliant! It’s all shot up and I’ve already had to cut out the central shoots on a few of them. The difference versus last year is amazing.

    However, I also planted out into a raised bed at the same time as filling the grow bags, and that broccoli is almost as advanced. So maybe it’s not the bags, maybe it’s the temperature. (Not even sun or lack of it because the bags are in the sun and the beds are largely out of it.) We’re in Scotland and had an unusually hot spell in May. Could it be that that has made all the difference – given them a head start?

    My conclusions? The grow-bags are great space savers, but they’re not essential (and I wouldn’t pay £4 for one). You can pack the plants in more tightly than the packets suggest without any ill effects. Sowing the seed early under a plastic tunnel (a cheap on from Lidl in my case) gives the plants a head start and seems to mean you can get a same-year crop. And if you can organise for sun in May….

    Hope that’s of help.

  3. so much useful information about psb, but i still have a query. I’ve planted out the young plants grown from seed earlier this year. Since going in the ground they’ve been growing at an incredible rate and have already started producing purple florets. This is my first year growing psb and i wasn’t expecting a crop until the winter. Having read the other posts i’ve now harvested the central florets and hope the side ones will get bigger. One plant has already gone to flower so i may have lost that one. I’m just a bit confused as the major complaint seems to be the long wait – and yet mine seem to be impatient! Do you think i should enjoy it while it lasts… And is there any chance of a second harvest in the winter?

  4. teresa

    Hi Everyone,
    I planted some seeds in early spring 2008, the weather was really poor if I recall and I pretty much gave up hope of anything growing. 2008 came and went with nothing, so you can imagine my supprise when shoots rapidly turned in to large leaves in March 2009. By April I had lovely purple sprouts. I wasn’t sure when to pick so I left them a little while, then one started to produce yellow flowers so I quickly picked the rest!. Albeit only a small amount verse the amount of foilage, they were absoultely wonderful! yum. I picked some of the leaves to give my friends rabbit as I was unsure if I could do anything with the rest? Anyway, can anybody tell me what to do next? Do I leave the large leaves and stems, or do I cut back?

  5. Brummie

    How funny!! I’ve just taken over some garden next door to grow veg;. The first things I planted was Pak Choi, PSB and potatoes. Well I’ve just checked the PC and they have “bolted”, I;ve just read about them online and it seems I’ll have to start again!! Now I’ve read this webpage and I’ve realised that I won’t be able to eat my PSB until next year.
    Let’s hope that the pots grow and survive!?! They have poked their heads above ground, my friend has told me to pile the soil around them, so that’s what I’ll be doing at the weekend! (As well as pulling out the Pak Choi!)
    But I’m not put off and I’ll learn from the experiences. I cleary need to read pages like this before I buy and plant next time.
    Thanks all.

  6. rene marshall

    Hi everyone

    I used to grow psb a few years ago when I had a small veg garden and yes, you can eat other then the heads.

    The leaves kept us going for quite a lot of the winter months by taking a few and boiling them for lunch – lovely

    I’m going to try growing about six in any place I can find a bit of spare soil as soon as I get the seeds, or better still the plants. Could look good in a flower bed!! as someone pointed out.

  7. kate-in-basel

    Hi all,

    we’ve recently moved to Basel in Switzerland and I’m hoping to put in some PSB this year to crop early next year – especially as you can’t get it in the supermarkets out here! But the winter can be quite hard, so my question is what do I have to do to protect the plants from hard frost and snow? This is actually a mild area of the country and the average winter doesn’t see too much snow, but regular overnight temperatures of -5 – -10.


    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello Kate-in-Basel

      I’ve no idea about winter gardening in Basel. If I was you, I’d take a trip to the best garden shop and ask for advice.

      I bet you could grow them using fleece as long as they were well established by the autumn.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sarah

    I have never staked mine but I though that I might give stakes a go this year. Home grown tastes so much sweet than shop bought don’t you think?

  9. I’ve been cropping our psb for about a month now and giving some away too, its fab. I made a mistake when planting and had them far too close (I have about a dozen in the size of a single bed)But they have done really well.
    We spent the early summer delighted that these strange triffid like plants had attracted LOTS of butterflies and were horrified as those hungry caterpillars did their worst. We had to start squishing and the children enjoyed the bug patrol. A friend of mine, who gave me the seeds didn’t want to kill caterpillars and left it until she just had stalks, but the hardy little plants grew back and she has been eating her own crops.
    I didn’t stake them and they have kept quite low. I will be growing these again this year.

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Mary M

    I have never heard this. We always plant new plants in July (set the seeds two or three months earlier.

    Hi Suze

    So pleased that you finally got a good result from your PSB. They do take a long time to mature but are so well worth the wait.

    Thanks for your cooking tip. Will try that next time. Meanwhile have you tried growing white sprouting broc This is the Beluga Caviar of the sprouting broccoli world. They take up less space too!

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