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. Derek Kirk

    We have been planning our veg. garden this afternoon & remember the beautiful taste of White Sprouting Broccoli that we used to grow in Notts. Is there any chance of posting us some seeds as we can’t buy them in France. P.& P. obviously to
    be paid by us & could give Bank Card details in advance if required.
    Thanks, Derek & Julie Kirk.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lynn

    WSB is from the cabbage family and broccoli raab are the flowering tips of turnips.

    I did meet a farmer once who admitted to selling a field of rape florets to a buyer who was going to sell this as WSB in London so beware! Names never to be divulged…!

  3. Very interesting broccoli. I’m amazed to see just how many kinds of broccoli there are. I’ve never seen white though. I’ll have to check around. Is it like broccoli raab?

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Magic Cochin

    WSB in a white sauce sounds perfect. I’d like to try the vinegar too!

    I’d love to try planting some seed in April for an autumn harvest but John hates me meddling. Perhaps in a new, secret area of the garden…

    Hi Mildred

    I’m getting cottage fever too and long for those extended summer evenings pottering in the kitchen garden.

    Hi Pat

    You should definitely try a few of these in your new beds. Nothing like the supermarket packs!

    Hi Rosemary

    I was horrified to see that one plant was on the cusp of going to seed!

    Hi Kay

    This is the Dom Perignon of SB. Actually I’ve never sipped DP but can imagine and dream!

    Do try it. Very sweet and subtle. Once tasted never forgotten.

    Hi Z

    I’ve noticed the packs in the shops for the last few weeks and asumed that those I saw before had wings. o thanks for the tip.

    The WSB are much smaller plants so probably are not as commercially viable. Presumably connoisseurs grow their own!

    Thanks for dropping by.

  5. English PSB has been available all winter this year, the first time I’ve known that to happen. Growers are becoming much more adventurous in their planting, both with varieties and timing, as people want locally, or at least English-grown veg. White SB is usually that bit later in any case, and not so much of it is commercially grown, and I haven’t seen any yet.

  6. I noticed yesterday that our white sprouting broccoli has just begun to show the heads,not enough for a meal yet as there are five of us !

  7. Kay Sexton

    I want some! Now!

    I’ve never seen white-sprouting, although we love purple-sprouting: I’m off to do some research right this minute …

  8. Oh maybe a new plant for me to try in the future. Thanks Fiona!!

  9. Thanks for the info Fi, and the links too – all really informative. Good to think we will soon be ‘properly’ back in the garden!

  10. magic cochin

    I haven’t eaten WSB since my Dad grew it! What a treat – it was always served with a white sauce (and Dad always had vinegar on his, it takes all sorts!)

    It’s so easy to forget to sow the winter brassicas when your swept up in the delights of mange tout, strawberries and sald leaves! I was a bit too late last year resulting in just two mini PSB plants.


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