The term broccoli is perhaps a little misleading as it refers to two distinct types.
Calabrese which produces large, round heads is often referred to as broccoli, while sprouting broccoli produces smaller florets on longer stems.
It is a summer to autumn crop, while sprouting broccoli can be over-wintered making it a valuable crop when there is little else on offer.
Calabrese should be sown directly into the ground from mid-spring to early summer, sowing just a few each time. Sow the seeds at a depth of 2cm and 30cm apart, and space the rows at a distance of 45cm.
Sow sprouting broccoli under cover in trays or modules or in the ground in early spring, covering them until the danger of frost has passed. They can also be sown in mid-autumn for over-wintering crops. Sprouting broccoli needs more room than calabrese so needs 60cm between plants and rows.
Plants can become quite heavy once heads have developed, so earth up the stems as they grow and tall plants may need to be staked. Keep the weeds down and water well whilst the plants are young. Avoid over-watering sprouting broccoli to help it to over-winter. A word of warning – don’t plant any of the brassica family in the same ground where brassicas have been grown in the last three years.
On to cauliflower, with careful planning you can ensure a crop to harvest all year round. Sow seeds in autumn or winter to produce an early summer crop; sow in spring for summer and autumn crop; and sow late spring for a winter or spring crop. Sow in trays and keep indoors or under a cloche or cold frame to protect from frost and to encourage germination.
For new growers there are certain varieties for different times of the year. Try Nemo F1 for June to October; Regatta F1 for October to November; Mystique F1 for February to March; Walcheren Winter for March to April.
To introduce children to vegetable growing there is no better way to get them started than by growing radish because they are usually ready for pulling after about four weeks. Get the children to sow just a few every couple of weeks for a continuous supply and I am sure when they see the results they will be asking to grow other vegetables.
Now into March we should be seeing an improvement in the weather from the battering winds and heavy rains of February. There are certain jobs that should be undertaken this month, but often the timing is quoted for southern areas not here in the north.
Jobs like pruning back buddleia davidii, caryopteris and lavatera should be left until the end of the month.
This also applies to hydrangeas.
Mopheads and lacecaps need lightly pruning.