The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

White sprouting broccoli

white sprouting brocThere are two types of sprouting broccoli – purple and white. The purple are generally bigger plants. These are very tasty but nothing can beat the tender sweetness of the white sprouting varieties.

Many people that I have spoken to have given up trying to cultivate sprouting broccoli.
“It sat there. Doing nothing. Eventually we ripped out the row.”
If you toss away the seed packet it’s easy to forget how long it takes to develop. It’s always worth checking in a book or diving into the internet if a plant seems to be “failing”.

Before we started growing it ourselves, John used to bring bags of purple sprouting broccoli in exchange for eggs. One year he left white sprouting broccoli. Danny peered into the bag when he had gone. Initially suspicious,
“Why are the shoots this pale colour?”
He held a stem up to the light and examined it closely.
“Could this be an albino strain?”
We cooked it that night and realised that we were feasting on a delicacy far beyond the purple horizons of its colourful cousin.

When John and I were planning what to plant in our kitchen garden the next spring, I mentioned in passing the sweetness of the white sprouting broccoli. As he supplies our plantlets, broad bean seed and seed potatoes, he is in control. He nodded and sniffed deeply. The message was clear – as he provides the plantlets, he chooses the varieties.

I twigged that we were lucky to have any plants at all and didn’t venture further.

Each July he arrives with a bulging carrier bag of plants wrapped in newspaper. After mowing the lawn he sets them in the vegetable beds. They need a bit of cosseting initially so generally I water them for the first month or so if it is dry. The plants are liable to be infested with the eggs of the Cabbage White butterfly (although this didn’t happen last summer) and these need to be sprayed as the leaves will be destroyed if the eggs hatch out into ravenous caterpillars.

Planted in July, the sprouting heads do not appear until the following spring and this is why many people give up. Nothing happens for months. This evening I discovered that you can plant sprouting broccoli in April and be eating it in the autumn. On the sprouting broccoli front things have moved on. Massively.

We have grown purple sprouting broccoli for the last three years. Far tastier than the slightly sour, expensive supermarket packs. Sometimes we have talked about the white. Once or twice dreamt about it.

I was pottering in the kitchen garden this morning when I saw that the netting had blown off the sprouting broccoli. As I was putting it back, I noticed small creamy white heads of broccoli ready to be plucked. I had a quick recce – all the plants where WSB. The plants are not the usual PSB giants – I had assumed the poor summer has resulted in smaller plants.

I raced back to the cottage, took the stairs in two splendid leaps and pushed open the Rat Room door.
“Guess what? We have white sprouting broccoli and some is ready to eat now!”

We usually only start harvesting our sprouting broc by mid March. A quick skim on the internet reveals that there are early forms of WSB (could ours be one or is it the mild winter that has given us this early crop?). John is taking his short winter break at the moment so is unavailable for comment.

How do I harvest sprouting broccoli?
Snap off the central sprouting stem first as this encourages the side shoots to develop fast.

How do I grow sprouting broccoli?
Once the plants are in the ground the process is easy. Just let them stand and protect them from the eggs of Cabbage White butterfly and peckish wood pigeon who love the tender plantlets. We water them a little for the first few weeks and net from the word go. Fruit nets are fine but remember to shake off the snow in the winter. Some people stake each plant. The fastidious John says not to bother.

Don’t miss out on this superb crop that freezes well. For sowing and early care tips, check out these two excellent sites:
Thompson and Morgan for white sprouting brocolli seeds.

The RHS for sproting brocolli growing tips.

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  1. I am searching for the old open pollinated white sprouting broccoli and can’t seem to find it. Is White Eye open pollinated does anyone know? Three of four varieties that I like have disappeared lately (I’ve told Heritage Seed Library).The one I am most upset about is French bean Sungold. I donated some seeds to HSL and they didn’t germinate so it might have gone forever

  2. Derek Kirk

    I now live in S.W.France but was born in Lincs. & dad grew WSB ( beautiful) natural, with white sauce or with malt vinegar ( a Lincolnshire thing with all brassicas). I grew it in Retford Notts. with great success. My wife has just sown WSB seeds in our newly aquired greenhouse & they are already at seedleaf stage after 2 weeks. Looking forwards to eating the rewards next year.Just hope that the climate is correct here!!!

  3. mike vincent

    Hello every one i planted my white sprouting brocolli in july and had a constent battle with caterpillers and nearly gave up on them but left them in for a nice bit of green over winter to my amazment we now have an abundence of delicious broccoli which is well worth the wait so dont be tempted to pull them up be patient happy gardening.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Peggy

    I reckon that your broccoli went in too ;late. They have to be planted out in July in the UK and the seed needs to be set now. If you put the plants in the autumn they will not have reached the right size and will fail. Garden centres are naughty to go on selling them after mid August. I was caught by this problem a few years ago.

    So my advice would be to jettison the plants. The leaves and soft stalks can make great soup and plant your own seeds now.

  5. I bouoght plants for both purple and white sprouting brocolli (or so they were labled) in our local garden center in the autumn of 2008 and planted them out expecting a nice harvest this spring. So far one plant has given us one tiny cluster of purple heads and another has given us some leggy white sprouts (SO yummy!). The rest of the dozen or so: nothing. They are getting quite tall and leafy. Should I leave them in over the summer and expect a harvest in the fall? I am totally confused!

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