Broccoli gets a bad rap as a veggie that kids, and even some adults, can't learn to love. Overcooked, it's a khaki-colored, limp, gassy disappointment. But broccoli deserves a fresh look in the cooler season, when the fall florets have a sweeter character.
Growing your own means you can eat "root to fruit": The fresh leafy greens, crunchy center stalks, and tender side shoots all await exploration beyond the perfect tree-shaped head. This is also a versatile vegetable—it's great raw as a fresh snack with a zesty dip; steamed and sprinkled with lemon juice; stir-fried (where the florets soak up flavor); or shaved into slaw or salad. No need to hide it in a cheesy casserole: Minimal cooking and a light hand make the most of the homegrown harvest.
A cool-season crop, broccoli flourishes when daytime temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees (don't we all?). Give your chosen variety ample time to mature well before the first frost date.
In areas with moderate climates, transplants are usually off to a great start in July and August, harvestable within 60 days or so. Seek varieties known for cool-season tolerance, such as 'Calabrese' or 'Waltham,' and those prized for extra harvests of side shoots after the main head is cut, such as 'DeCicco.' Most varieties cook up and taste somewhat similar, with the exception of 'Purple Sprouting', which has stalks close to asparagus in appearance and flavor.
Broccoli lives large, so give it elbow room—at least 18-inch spacing—and keep it fed. Like most of its brassica brethren, broccoli is a heavy feeder and thrives in nitrogen-rich soil. Provide compost and apply high-nitrogen organic fertilizer every few weeks.