Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Online Course Icon


Brassica oleracea var. italica

A member of the cabbage family.

The country of Italy features strongly with broccoli. The word is plural of ‘broccolo’, meaning ‘flowering sprouts of cabbage’. These sprouts are naturally thin and long, so broccoli is the result of breeding to increase their size and tenderness.

Types - There are three main ones, with significant differences in harvest amounts, size, types of size, and timing.

1st June – first harvest of calabrese, sown under covers in late February
Kaibroc in November – these small plants were interplanted in August between lettuce which grew for six more weeks, hence their small size; however they are still looking vigorous
7th April – Claret F1 purple sprouting broccoli, looking pretty in the frost after surviving the winter

1. Calabrese

The largest and most tender broccoli, from Calabria, the southern toe of Italy’s boot shape on a map. A large domed head is your first pick, followed by side shoots over a few weeks.

2. Kaibroc

What I call ‘kaibroc’ is also called ‘brokali’ and ‘broccolini’, sometimes ‘tender stem broccoli’ too. It’s a hybrid cross of broccoli with kailaan or gai lan. The latter is sometimes called Chinese kale (Brassica oleracea, Alboglabra Group), an extremely fast-growing plant for harvests of flowering broccoli with thin stems.

Kaibroc’s stems are of medium thickness, and it can give the first harvest as quickly as two months from sowing. Late summer sowings crop well into winter if not too frosty.

  • Another hybrid variation is Broccoli raab, or Cima di Rapa/Rapini  (Brassica rapa var. Ruvo). More of this plant is edible than most of the broccoli here – the leaves are very tender while its shoots are smaller. It overwinters in temperate climates, for pest-free harvests in early spring. Summer sowing is less advisable, as shown in the second photo below.
Late March –  Broccoli Raab in Steph Hafferty’s polytunnel; this was sown in September and has cropped already with tender shoots and leaves – almost no pest damage at this time of year
Broccoli Raab in summer from a July sowing, struggling against pests – it is better sown late August for autumn harvests outside, in September for overwintering undercover, or outside in mild climates

3. Sprouting broccoli

Older strains of broccoli grow a medium-sized first head, followed by many smaller second stems over weeks, even months. With each succeeding pick, the stems are thinner and slightly more fibrous, plus greater in number. The flower buds may be green, white, or purple.

I use purple sprouting as the example in my video shown below, of the type which overwinters, to crop in late winter or early spring.  The purple types are common, white ones less so, and they yield a little less too.

A variation is the Nine Star Perennial (photos below), which, in my view, is not a true perennial because it needs picking hard through spring to make sure no flowers remain. If left to flower through summer, I have found it less likely to survive. It’s interesting to compare it with perennial kale, which does not flower and keeps sending energy to the leaves in a seamless way, throughout the year.

9th June – magnificent main head of calabrese Marathon F1, sown on 25th February; this is ready to cut, and within a few days would be elongating, and even have flowerbeds opening
Kaibroc transplanted on 10th July, after the main head has already been picked; this is late September – many harvests are still to come
30th March – Claret F1 broccoli with an impressive main head after a mild winter; this would be harvested two to three weeks later, after a cold winter

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 70 for kaibroc, 100–130 for calabrese, 170–300 for sprouting broccoli.
  • Broccoli as an annual: June to November from two sowings.
  • Broccoli overwintered: March to May.

  • Best climate is warm not hot, with good moisture or water given; they tolerate freezing.

Why grow them

Continuous cropping is one of the biggest advantages. From one sowing, you can have a fine and large main head followed by side shoots for four to six weeks. Even for longer, especially if you don’t mind them being small and with thin stems.

  • With homegrown broccoli, you can pick stems with more length than you might find in the shops. The sweetness is in the stems much more than in the buds. One old description of broccoli is ‘poor man’s asparagus’.
  • You have seasonal choices, with harvests possible almost year-round in temperate climates. Broccoli plants are impressively cold resistant.
  • An extra harvest is the leaves. The ones high up and closest to any broccoli buds are the most tender, just don’t take too many if you want plenty of broccoli.
April – Nine Star Perennial broccoli; the first heads are now ready, from a transplant the previous July
See how the Nine Star Perennial broccoli looks like a cauliflower at this stage, before a mid-April harvest

Suitable for containers/shade?

Broccoli grows fine in shade, while for containers I suggest kaibroc because it is smaller. Or even kailaan, for harvests of flowering stems and leaves.


  1. Hybrid varieties of calabrese give the large green heads you see in my photos, and I find only small variations between varieties. Try any of Belstar, Fiesta, Green Magic, Ironman and Marathon.
  2. Kaibroc/brokali are all hybrid varieties. Good ones are Apollo, Atlantis, Columbia and Royal Tenderette.
  3. For sprouting broccoli, check the small print about timings of harvest in any varietal description – they vary a lot. My favourite is Carmen F1, for harvests in early spring from sowings the previous summer.

Other good hybrids of sprouting broccoli are Rudoph, which crops mid-winter if not too cold, and Summer Purple, for harvests from midsummer through autumn. Hybrids give larger heads than the older open-pollinated varieties such as Early/Late Purple Sprouting, which are now often poorly maintained by seed companies. For white sprouting, try Burbank F1 to crop late winter, and Nine Star Perennial for early spring.

Calabrese Fiesta is bountiful by 16th June, from an early sowing in late February
Brokali Apollo from an early sowing, the first small heads showing on 10th May; harvests of kaibroc are smaller in spring than in autumn
7th April – slight -2 °C/28 °F frost looking pretty on Claret F1 purple broccoli

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Straight after the last harvest, the best clearing method is to get hold of a main stem and keep twisting it, so that the large roots snap off. This leaves a lot of root in the ground which is good. There is some soil disturbance, and it’s worth walking on the uplifted soil to firm it down again.

Cut off all leaves to compost, leaving the woody and fibrous stem, which composts best either sliced or shredded.

  • Shredders do a lovely job of both chopping and crushing the main stem.
  • Slicing downwards is far easier than cutting across stem fibres, and even a penknife can manage the downward slice. The intention is to expose more surface area for microbes in the compost heap.
Mid- May – I have just twisted out these stems of overwintered broccoli, before removing leaves and then shredding the woody stems
Broccoli stem pictured mid-shredding – this device has maximum stem diameter of 45 cm/18 in; I needed to split a few of the fattest ones lengthways, so that they could pass through
The result of leaves plus shredded stems of 30 large broccoli plants, now rapidly heating on the compost heap

Follow with

After final harvests of summer broccoli and early kaibroc, you can transplant beetroot, salads, dwarf beans, carrots and leeks. Once, in July, I transplanted more broccoli after broccoli, and this worked fine.

Spring broccoli finishes in time for almost any succession, including courgettes, celeriac, and climbing beans