By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Broccoliis a classic vegetable that fits into many international cuisines and offersplenty of nutrition. If you want a variety with tight heads and prolificflowering, try growing Belstar broccoli. With just 66 days to maturity, you willbe enjoying your own broccoli crop in just a few months! Keep reading forfurther Belstar broccoli info, including when and how to plant this deliciousvariety.
What is Belstar Broccoli?
The Belstar broccoli variety is an organic hybrid varietysuitable for either spring or summer planting. Just like any other broccoli,Belstar doesn’t do well in hot temperatures. Plants in the Brassica family arehigh in vitamins C and K, fiber, and manganese. They are being studied fortheir ability to fight cancer. Broccoli is one of the tastier varieties of thisfamily.
The Belstar variety is very adaptable and produces stresstolerant plants. Not only does it develop a large central head, but the sideshoots produce numerous smaller heads. The florets are dense and deeply bluishgreen. The largest heads can reach 6 inches (15 cm.) across. The plant also hasgreat disease resistance.
Belstar Broccoli Info
Belstar can be planted in spring or late summer. It has anexcellent ability to germinate in warm weather, but plants should be protectedfrom extreme heat. Broccoli needs well-drainedsoil with plenty of organicmatter incorporated and a soilpH of 6.0-7.5. Plants need plenty of water to ensure good flower headformation.
Mulch around the plants to keep soil cool and prevent weeds.Practicecrop rotation with non-cruciferous crops to help prevent disease and pestproblems. Broccoli’s tight heads absorb chemical sprays easily and is hard torinse off any remaining residue. Use organicsprays to prevent contaminating the heads.
Tips on Growing Belstar Broccoli
If you want a spring crop sow seeds in flats 1/4 inch (.64cm.) deep, three to four weeks before planting out. You can also sow intoprepared beds when soil is warmed up and workable. Thin seedlings to 18 inches(46 cm.) apart. The best temperatures are 60-70 F. (16-21 C.).
For a fall crop, start seeds 10-12 weeks before the firstexpected frost. Direct sow 2 to 4 inches apart (5-10 cm.) and thin once plantshave two pairs of true leaves.
Harvestthe side shoots as they come to promote more and help establish the large centralhead. Ice broccoli after harvesting to preserve the crunch.
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If you thought broccoli was a once-a-year, one-shot affair, think again. Just about any gardener in the United States can harvest crops two, or even three times a year. How? In most areas, by sowing seed in July. For that third harvest of the year, gardeners in zones US Hardiness Zone 7b through 9a can sow certain varieties again in late summer for an overwintering crop. You'll find all the whys and wherefores later in the article, but you'll have to know first what zone you live in.
Standard broccoli planting strategy calls for sowing seed in spring. Specifically, sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost and transplant into the garden 3 to 4 weeks later for an early summer harvest. While this schedule is fine in most regions, only gardeners in northern, short-season zones 3 to 4a are limited to it. These gardeners, in cities such as Bismarck, Minneapolis, and Montpelier, Vermont, should choose any of the standard southern European varieties from the list below.
Gardeners in zones 9b and 10 are similarly limited, but to the opposite season. Cool spring is too short, and summer is too hot in zones 9b and 10 for broccoli. In cities such as Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Orlando, sow seed in fall for an early spring harvest. Choose any variety from the list below.
If you live in zones 4b to 6a: Although the cold temperatures and shorter days of fall come quickly in the North, you can harvest an early summer crop from a late spring planting or harvest in September and October from an early summer (June or July) planting. For the latter, choose a variety that matures quickly and that has good frost tolerance, such as 'Green Valiant', in case there's an early frost.
Start seeds indoors or direct sow into the garden 10 to 12 weeks before the first expected frost in your area. If you buy transplants, plant them 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. For best germination when direct seeding, sow seeds about 3/4 to 1 inch deep, keep the soil moist and shaded. Whether you start with seeds or transplants, planting in midsummer means heat is likely to stress young broccoli plants. Provide afternoon shade until harvest by erecting shade cloth, or grow broccoli plants in north-south rows on the east side of tall summer crops, such as pole beans and sweet corn.
If you live in zones 6b to 7a: Summer comes quicker in these regions, so gardeners here are better off forgoing the spring crop and planting only for a fall crop following the planting schedule outlined in the previous section.
To stagger the fall harvest, plant broccoli blends (such as George's Favorite Blend, which mixes three or four varieties together) or make your own blend by planting some early, midseason, and late-maturing varieties simultaneously. This way you can stretch your harvest season from October to perhaps January.
If you live in zones 7b to 9a: Gardeners in these zones can grow any of the standard broccolis for a fall harvest (again following the directions above) as well as the northern European overwintering varieties of broccoli. Transplanted in late summer these varieties grow slowly through the winter and head up in March to May.
NG test gardeners planted these overwintering broccolis last fall and several reported good results to temperatures as low as 10° F. And Tim Peters at Peters Seed and Research Company tells me that one variety, 'Spring Green Mix', is hardy to 0° F.
Most of these genetically distinct strains of broccoli look like familiar market broccoli, which originated in southern Europe. Others look more like cauliflower and some have purplish shoots.
These overwintering types need a cold period to head properly. That's why, in contrast to the standard varieties, these succeed only as overwintered crops in zones 7b to 9a.
Start overwintering broccolis early in summer and transplant them in August, so plants have time to grow by January. Plants that are either too small or too large at the onset of low temperatures will suffer. Also, don't overfertilize. Use one-half the recommended rate -- about 3/4 cup of 5-10-10 per plant -- at planting time and apply the other half the following spring.
All broccolis are heavy feeders. Before planting standard varieties, mix into your soil 2 cubic feet of aged manure or 3 pounds of a 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Sidedress with a pound of blood meal per 100-square-foot area when the transplants are about 6 inches tall. Broccoli is sensitive to some nutrient deficiencies -- especially boron (a common deficiency of coastal plain soils from New Jersey to Louisiana). Without adequate boron, plants develop small, mouse-ear-sized top leaves and hollow stems. If your soil tests low in boron, apply 1/2 tablespoon of borax mixed with compost over 100 square feet of garden.
Space plants 18 inches apart for large-sized heads. For better overall production, but smaller heads, space plants 12 inches apart. Mulch with a 4- to 6-inch-thick layer of straw to keep the soil cool and moist.
Insects and Other Pests
Summer insects can quickly kill a young broccoli plant. To control the most devastating ones (imported cabbageworm, cabbage looper, harlequin bugs, and cabbage maggots), cover broccoli transplants with a lightweight row cover, such as Agrofabric Pro-10. Leave it on throughout the season. The cover will let in light, air, and water, but unlike traditional row covers, it won't increase the temperature by more than 5oF. More important, the cover will prevent harlequin bugs from feeding and the adult forms of these other cabbage pests from laying eggs on the plants.
If you prefer not to use row covers, spraying with Bt will control any larvae, and pyrethrin will control harlequin bugs. Spray when you first see signs of insect damage. Place tar paper mats around young broccoli transplants to stop the cabbage maggot fly from laying eggs.
Here are the broccoli varieties I recommend for a fall or early spring harvest. It's based on discussions with gardeners and researchers throughout the United States, as well as my own experience here in Vermont. Information included is whether the variety is hybrid or open-pollinated (you can save your own seeds from the latter), the days to maturity from transplant (so you can mix early, midseason, and late varieties to extend harvest), and the variety's genetic ancestry, which indicates cold tolerance.
- 'Arcadia' (hybrid, 63 days). A large, late-maturing variety with good disease and cold tolerance southern European.
- 'Calabrese' (open-pollinated, 58 days). An Italian heirloom sprouting type that produces lots of small (3- to 5-inch) heads over a long period southern European.
- 'DeCicco' (open-pollinated, 48 days). A very early maturing sprouting type similar to 'Calabrese' but with larger heads southern European.
- George's Favorite Blend (hybrid, 60-70 days). A blend of early, midseason, and late-maturing varieties in one packet southern European.
- 'Green Valiant' (hybrid, 59 days). A compact midseason variety with good side shoot production. It's also one of the most cold tolerant of the southern European varieties. Needs high fertility to produce well.
- 'Marathon' (hybrid, 68 days). The number one broccoli variety grown in the world often planted as a fall and winter crop. It's late maturing, produces uniform 6-inch-diameter heads, withstands cool conditions, and has good side shoot production southern European.
- 'Packman' (hybrid, 50 days). An early, fast-maturing variety - good if you're late starting a fall crop southern European.
- 'Premium Crop' (hybrid, 64 days). A midseason variety that produces large (9-inch) heads and has disease and heat tolerance southern European.
- 'Purple-Sprouting' (open-pollinated, 220-250 days). An overwintering type that produce large yields of open purple heads in early spring. Also available as a white sprouting type. NG test gardeners report reliable production in zone 7b northern European.
- 'Spring Green Mix' (open pollinated, 210 days). An overwintering mix of super hardy broccolis that produce large, 6- to 8-inch heads northern European.
- 'Thompson 92' (open-pollinated, 70 days). A large-headed, late-season crop that matures over several weeks southern European.
- 'Umpqua' (open-pollinated, 55 days). A midseason variety with a domed head and good side shoot production southern European.
- 'Walcherin' (open-pollinated 210-270 days). A series of northern European, overwintering cauliflowers from Holland that are technically white-headed broccolis. Individual varieties have similar characteristics, but mature at different times. NG tested 'Fleurly', 'Galleon', and 'Maystar' 'Maystar' was preferred.
- 'Waltham 29' (open-pollinated, 75 days). A late-maturing heirloom known for its cold tolerance and abundant side shoot production southern European.
Spring Plant Varieties: What’s in a Name?
Growing a garden isn’t rocket science, but it is a body of knowledge that comes partly from studying up, but also from trial and error, observation and participation. Part of what our Sierra Gardens program does is help take some of the guesswork out of growing fresh, organic vegetables at home. One of the ways we do this is by providing the right starts and seeds for each season.
Most of us have a sense that Spring is the time to plant veggies that can tolerate with cooler weather, like kale, lettuce and cabbage. But there are so many individual varieties of each – how do you pick? Farmers and gardeners choose varieties based on specific qualities that are desirable for their climate, growing conditions and personal preferences. Not all cabbages are created equal! Some are big, some are small, some are red, some are more tender, some are crinkly, some have a shorter maturation time…. the list of possible attributes goes on and on.
I’d like to share more about the varieties of plants that we are providing to our Sierra Gardens participants this month, for those of you in the program and also so others can read along and benefit as well. All of the starts that we provide are grown by Deena and Robbie at Sweet Roots Farm in Grass Valley. Like any farmer, they choose varieties based on their experiences and successes, both in the field and with their customers.
But before we jump into varieties, a quick lesson on plant names!
All crops – and all plants, for that matter – have a Latin binomial name. This begins with the genus name, always capitalized, followed by the species name, which is not capitalized.
Let’s use cabbage as an example:
-The genus is Brassica (all Brassicas are classified under the bigger family name of Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard and more)
-The species name is oleracea.
-So Brassica oleraceais Latin binomial (or scientific name) of cabbage.
-Then, we add to that a variety name, and we have Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra
Don’t know Latin? The common name of this plant is red express cabbage!
When we refer to plants in our gardens, we generally refer to them by their common name, ie, broccoli, cabbage, kale, or tomato. I may refer to a family of plants like the Brassicas, referring to all of the plants in that family. But for the general purposes, knowing the genus and species may be interesting and fun (at least if you’re a plant geek like me!), but not entirely necessary. However, I do like to keep track of the name of the varieties that I grow. When speaking about a plant I will generally refer to it by its common name and variety, ie: meadowlark kale, or Chadwick cherry tomato, or red express cabbage.
When labelling plants in my garden or greenhouse I generally write it like this, with the variety in quotations: kale “meadowlark” or tomato “Chadwick cherry.” I don’t know if this is standard in the botany community, but it is how I was taught, and it works for me.
Keeping track of varieties is fun and interesting, and you will begin to discern the sometimes subtle sometimes not differences between varieties and develop your own favorites. Below are some varieties of broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard, collars and lettuce to look out for this Spring season. Check them out below and try out something new this season!
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The Belstar broccoli variety is an organic hybrid variety suitable for either spring or summer planting. This variety is very adaptable and produces stress tolerant plants. Not only does it develop a large central head, but the side shoots produce numerous smaller heads.
Golden Acre is a tasty cabbage that arrives early and is suited for close spacing. This early round head cabbage is easily grown and versatile in use. Heads are about 6 to 7 inches in diameter on compact plants about a foot high. Its firm, medium green head is excellent cooked or raw in stews and salads.
Cabbage ‘Famosa’ is a hybrid savoy cabbage. The savoy cabbage is known for its heavily crinkled leaves and head.
Leaves are thin and juicy with a slight peppery bite, perfect for stir-fries and egg rolls. Small, uniform heads with attractive rosebud wrappers are great for smaller households and pack nicely in boxes. Round heads with a short core hold well in summer heat habit suitable for dense plantings.
Red Express cabbage is aptly named. Sixty-three days to maturity is a sprint in the cabbage world. The 1-1/2 to 2-pound, tightly compact, rock-hard heads of reddish-purple are your reward!
This large 4-5 lb. cabbage is ideal for processing coleslaw. The crisp heads offer a vibrant red and white coloring with a short core.
Red Russian is beautiful, frilly, purple-veined, blue-green leaves are tinged with red-purple and resemble oak leaves. Vigorous plants grow 18-36″ tall. Leaves have a mild, sweet flavor. Hardy to -10°F.
Meadowlark kale is a particularly attractive plant with tall, upright stems and tightly curled leaves. Easier to de-rib than other kale varieties, it also features a sweet flavor and tender texture perfect for salads and cooked dishes.
This smoky blue lacinato type kale has become a favorite of gardeners and market farmers. It boasts unparalleled cold hardiness and fantastic purple and blue leaves.
One of the most tender kale varieties ideal for raw kale salads and soups. Leaves are very dark blue-green and heavily savoyed, sweetening with each frost. Also known as Dinosaur or Tuscan kale.
This Swiss Chard looks almost like rhubarb with its red stalks and green leaves. It has a nice mild flavor, and is less bitter than other swiss chards. And it cooks up beautifully, with deep green leaves and beautiful red stalks and veins.
Striking improved blend of red, pink, white, yellow and gold stems. Upright habit makes for clean production and easy harvesting. Color intensity is not as well defined early on mostly pink, red and white at baby stage.
Georgia collards, also known as ‘Southern’ collards, is a traditional Southern variety that is heat and cold tolerant and slow to bolt. Non-heading, juicy blue-green wavy leaves will stand light freezing which improves their cabbage-like flavor. Plants grow two to three feet tall.
These large, dark green, cabbage-like leaves retain eating quality for up to 2 weeks or longer. Champion is a compact collard plant that has an increased bolt resistance and enhanced winter hardiness, truly making it a champion!
This popular iceberg produces green, ample sized heads of crunchy, mild-tasting lettuce. Well suited for spring and summer plantings, the heads close early and fill in quickly to form bulky, flattened globes.
A type of iceberg lettuce, Crispino dependably produces firm, uniform heads and glossy green leaves with a mild, sweet flavor. Crispino lettuce plants are especially notable for their adaptability, thriving in conditions that are less than ideal, especially in warm, humid climates.
Two Star is slower to bolt and has a sweeter taste than most other green leaf lettuces. This leaf lettuce has tender, dark green leaves and produces uniform heads that are heavy weight.
The reddest of the red romaines, Outredgeous has sword-shaped, ruffle-edged, glossy garnet-red leaves that are substantive and thick with a sweet, crisp bite. It has an upright growing habit, is stout and sturdy and can be harvested as a baby leaf or allowed to mature into a loose romaine head about 10″ tall.
The Nevada lettuce variety is a Summer Crisp or Batavian lettuce that can be grown under cool conditions with additional heat resistance. Lettuce ‘Nevada’ still tastes sweet and mild long after other lettuce plants have bolted.
Optima is a thick-leaved type, consistently producing perfect, dense heads. Its velvety texture and buttery flavor are sure to be a hit in every salad! Shows field resistance to downy mildew, lettuce mosaic virus and bolting.
Vulcan lettuce is an early maturing loose Red Leaf variety. It is a hardy, slow to bolt and vigorous cut-and-come-again lettuce that offers two to three harvests per season.
High quality butterhead with glossy red outer leaves and a big bright green heart.
“Parris Island Cos”
Parris Island Cos is a romaine-type lettuce. Bright growth with medium green, slightly savoyed (crinkled) leaves, crisp ribs, and buttery-green heart.
Broccoli can be grown in raised beds, containers or in-ground in a backyard garden. It is paramount that the broccoli plant’s roots stay cool, which will make for a happy plant with successful growth.
Broccoli seeds can be started indoors in pots or have their seeds sown directly into the ground. Combining the practice of both methods will allow for succession planting and can ensure the successive harvest of these vitamin-rich garden gems.
- Plant broccoli seeds indoors approximately six weeks before the final frost of spring to ensure an early summer harvest.
- Plant broccoli seeds directly in the garden bed in mid to late summer to grow a fall or early winter crop.
- If you are lucky enough to live in a mild winters zone, you can also plant in the fall for a winter harvest.
- When it comes time to transplant seedlings into the garden, do so when they are six weeks along in the growing process and have four or five leaves. Harden the seedlings outside for a few days to get them acclimated and then plant them in the ground using the spacing guidelines below. If your seedlings are leggy, plant the seedlings so that the stem of the plant is buried just below the lowest leaves to help the plant’s stability.
How to Grow
To briefly cover growing zones, first know that B. oleracea var. italica loves cool weather and a full sun location – hot summer temperatures can cause the plant to bolt.
Because of this, there are two ideal seasons for planting your broccoli: spring and fall.
For a spring planting, you’ll want to sow seeds indoors about eight weeks before your average last frost date.
You’ll get a head start on enjoying your crisp brassicas if you start them indoors, but you can also start them directly in containers outdoors, 2-3 weeks before your average last frost date.
You can technically keep broccoli growing indoors, but this cruciferous veggie loves brisk, cool weather and will thrive in natural sunshine.
For a fall planting, sow seeds about eight to ten weeks before your average first frost date.
The plus side of growing in containers during cooler fall weather is that you’ll battle fewer bugs.
And in warmer climates, you can plant a winter crop, and then an early spring crop before skipping summer and starting again in the fall.
You can choose to either sow your own seeds, or purchase transplants from a nursery.
I decided to start mine from seed.
Broccoli seeds are round like peppercorns, and a striking deep purple-brown color. They’re nice and big compared to some other seeds.
You can start them in trays or directly in the containers where they’ll be growing.
I chose to start mine in seedling trays, and here’s how I did it.
Fill each cell – or your container – with a good-quality potting mix. I used a premium organic potting mix from Burpee.
Then create a small hole with your finger – about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch deep. Drop two seeds into each hole, in case one of them fails to germinate.
Cover with soil and water gently with a spray bottle or showerhead watering can so as not to displace seeds. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
Some seeds need light to germinate, but broccoli seeds do not. The moment you see them germinate – after 5-10 days – set your trays in a sunny windowsill or point a grow light at the emerging seedlings.
If both of your seeds have germinated, after a few days, thin to one plant per cell by cutting the smaller seedling with scissors.
If you are using a grow light, keep the light one to two inches away, moving them as the sprouts grow. On a windowsill, it’s advisable to rotate your seedling tray regularly to prevent the shoots from leaning towards the light.
If you leave the grow light too far away, like I did, your seeds will tend to grow “leggy” in their quest to reach more light. The problem with this is that the stalk won’t be as strong later on.
Thankfully, an easy way to solve this problem is to transplant the seedlings immediately to their permanent container.
That’s what I ended up doing – even though they still didn’t have their first set of true leaves.
Ideally you would transplant your seedlings when they have at least 2-3 sets of true leaves, and are about 4-6 inches tall.
I filled a large container with potting soil and added some 4-6-3 (NPK) vegetable-specific granular fertilizer from Dr. Earth, available from Home Depot, and let my three-year-old mix it all together.
You can also use a balanced 10-10-10 (NPK) according to the package instructions.
Next, I dug holes in the soil, about 3-4 inches apart, the same size as the root ball of my transplants.
You can do the same if you don’t mind crowding your plants – or, as I mentioned before, you can stick to one plant per every three to five gallons, or one plant in a 10-inch pot and two in a 12-inch and so on.
I decided to crowd my plants together in a three-gallon container. I couldn’t bear to get rid of too many of the seedlings I’d planted (I sowed six).
I was only going to transplant three in my 10-inch wide by 12-inch deep pot, but my toddler snuck an extra one in there and I couldn’t dampen his gardener’s enthusiasm by taking it away.
So, I have four broccoli seedlings in my container.
Since the shoots were so leggy, I buried about two inches of the green stem, but usually, you would plant to the same depth as the seedling pot.
I gave the entire 10-inch container a thorough watering and set it back under the grow light.
The green beauties have been growing at a steady clip ever since, and I can’t wait to harvest the tasty heads in another month or so!
I’m keeping the container indoors, just waiting for the weather to warm up to a consistent 45°F here in Alaska before I set it on my back porch for some fresh air and sunshine.
You will need to harden off your seedlings before they go and live outdoors To do this, set them outside for an increasing amount of time every day over the period of a week or two.
Depending on the cultivar you are growing, broccoli will take about two to three months to mature.