Advancing growing season, harvest for sprouting broccoli

·4 min read

Nov. 29—WILLSBORO — Early spring harvest and plantings of sprouting broccoli is one of the projects this past growing season at the Willsboro Research Farm funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program.

"One of the main crops I'm interested is sprouting broccoli," Elisabeth Hodgdon, regional vegetable specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern New York Horticulture Program, said.

"This is a crop more commonly grown in Europe and in England. They grow it in the winter. They call it winter sprouting broccoli. Sprouting broccoli is a vegetable that you cook similar to asparagus.

"The broccoli doesn't form a main broccoli crown like you would typically see in a grocery story. It does form a small crown in the center, but then it produces many different side shoots that have small broccoli florets and then long stems with small leaves."


The whole sprout — stem, leaves, florets — everything is all edible.

"The stems of these sprouting broccoli are very tender," she said.

"The leaves are nice and tender. They don't taste bitter like broccoli rabe can sometimes taste. It's a really good eating quality. There are different types of sprouting broccoli related to the colder climate that induces them to produce sprouts and a crown."

The project has been looking at high vernalization requirements for different varieties.

"There are some varieties that require longer exposure to cold temperatures in order to produce the broccoli sprouts or crowns," Hodgdon said.

"Those varieties are the ones that are grown in the winter in Europe where the winters are milder. One of our projects with sprouting broccoli involves planting the broccoli in our unheated high tunnel in the fall."

The plants grow until they are about a foot high or so.

"Or some of them are a little shorter depending on seeding date," she said.

"Then, they overwinter in the tunnel without any heat. They don't grow in the winter. They just sit there dormant. We cover them with a thin row cover. Once the days start getting longer, and the days are longer in February, they start growing again. "

Covers are removed late February/early March or whenever the conditions are good.

"After that exposure to the cold, they will produce broccoli," Hodgdon said.

"The idea is that broccoli can be harvested really early in the spring, so potentially March, April or May."


Collaborators at the University of New Hampshire have done overwintering sprouting broccoli successfully as well as people working at seed companies and farms in Maine.

"We tried this last winter, and the conditions just didn't work out," she said.

"Most of the plants ended up dying. We had a really severe cold snap in November, and our seedlings were a little too small going into the winter. We got a little bit of broccoli this spring, but it wasn't a healthy crop. So, we're trying that again this year.

"We started our seedlings a little bit earlier. Our seedlings are healthier going into the winter. We had a fairly mild fall, and so we had some good growth. We don't necessarily want the plants to be too big going into the winter because then they are more sensitive to the cold."

The project tested two different seeding dates.

"We are trying to develop recommendations for seeding dates and varieties to maximize overwinter potential and yield early in the spring," she said.

"So, we have been looking at different varieties and then playing with the seeding dates to see what works best to get the most broccoli in the spring.

The broccoli transplanted in Willsboro this fall looks good so far.

"We are going to cover it because the nighttime temperatures are predicted to be more consistently in the 20s," Hodgdon said.

"We hope that we will be harvesting broccoli in the spring, so maybe in April."


Some broccoli varieties require less cold exposure to produce broccoli.

"So we are trying to figure out how early can we plant broccoli in a high tunnel in the spring in order to get early broccoli," she said.

"Last spring, we transplanted the broccoli into the high tunnel in late March, and we had a mild spring. Our falls are getting warmer, and our winters are getting milder. It's kind of putting the odds in our favor for doing this kind of work."

The broccoli transplanted in March was harvested starting in mid-May.

"We had green sprouting broccoli and lots of purple sprouting broccoli," she said.

"So there's a number of purple sprouting broccoli varieties that are really attractive. We had a good harvest out of that spring broccoli."

It's a good side dish that can be boiled, steamed or used in stir fry.

"There are quite a few different ways you can eat it," Hodgdon said.

"It also looks really attractive on vegetable platters, so raw with dip."

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