Image by Dan Meineck
By Amy Grant
Growing broccoli from seed may not be anything new, but saving seeds from broccoli plants in the garden may be for some. This is a great way to put those bolted broccoli plants to work since they’re really no good for much else. Keep reading to learn how to save broccoli seeds.
Seed Starting: Broccoli History
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) belongs to the large family Brassicaceae/Crucifera, which includes other vegetables like Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi. Broccoli is a cool loving plant originating from Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean. This Brassica has been harvested from at least the first century AD, wherein the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote of his people’s enjoyment of broccoli.
In modern gardens, broccoli took a while to catch on. Eaten in Italy and other Mediterranean areas, the name broccoli means “little sprout” and it was in these Italian neighborhoods of North America that broccoli first made its appearance. While broccoli was grown in the 1800s, it wasn’t until 1923 when it was first shipped from the West that it gained in popularity.
Nowadays, broccoli has been bred to improve its adaptability, resistance to disease and quality and can be found in every supermarket. Seed starting broccoli plants have also caught on, as the plants are commonly grown in many home gardens today and growing broccoli from seed is not too difficult.
Saving Seeds from Broccoli
Broccoli plants can be a bit more difficult than other vegetables when saving seeds. This is because broccoli is a cross-pollinator; it needs other broccoli plants nearby in order to pollinate. As the broccoli plant is so closely related to other members of the mustard family, cross-pollination may occur amongst other plants of this same species, creating hybrids.
While these hybrids are often purposely created and have been seen in the grocery store of late, not all hybrids lend themselves to a good marrying. Hence, you will no doubt never see a cauli-kale and should probably plant only one type of Brassica if you want to save the seed.
How to Save Broccoli Seeds in the Garden
To save broccoli seeds, first choose broccoli plants that show the traits you wish to carry over into next year’s garden. The unopened flower buds, which in turn will be your seeds, are the area of the broccoli plant that we eat. You may have to sacrifice eating your most delectable head and use it instead for seeds.
Allow this broccoli head to mature and turn from green to yellow as the flowers bloom and then turn into pods. The pods are what contain the seeds. Once the pods are dry on the broccoli plant, remove the plant from the ground and hang to dry for up to 2 weeks.
Remove the dried pods from the broccoli plant and crush them in your hands or with a rolling pin to remove the seeds. Separate the chaff from the broccoli seeds. Broccoli seeds remain viable for 5 years.
Planting Broccoli Seed
To plant your broccoli seeds, start them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in warm, moist soil.
Keep broccoli starts in direct sun to keep them from getting spindly and then transplant at 4-6 weeks, 12-20 inches apart. Broccoli may also be started directly in the garden after the danger of frost, ½ to ¾ inch deep and 3” apart.