Growing Crops: Broccoli Rabe

What, exactly, is broccoli rabe (or raab, or raap)? Well, it’s not broccoli, for a start. It got that nickname due to its florets that resemble those of green calabrese (what we call broccoli here in the U.S.).

Other names for this mysterious vegetable are broccoletto and rapini…and it belongs to the same cultivar group as the turnip: the Ruvo group. It is a tangy green, not unlike mustard or collards – and often prepared the same way. Why not give it a try?

Best Climate to Grow: Broccoli rabe is a cool season vegetable, thriving in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. It needs protection from strong winds (staking, or mounding soil around the stems, may be necessary), and heat will make it bolt.

Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade. The shade will help put off bolting a bit longer once the weather really begins to warm up.

Soil Requirements: Moist, fertile, soil that is rich in nitrogen and organic matter and retains moisture without getting soggy. The pH level should be between 6.5 and 7.5 – right around neutral.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Be sure that you have started with nitrogen-rich soil – for crop rotation purposes, broccoli rabe is a good vegetable to plant following beans or peas – and fertilize with an organic, nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as bloodmeal or hydrolyzed fish a few weeks after planting. The soil must be kept moist at all times; drip irrigation combined with mulching is recommended.

When to Plant: If starting your seeds indoors, plant them about 6 weeks prior to the last frost date in your area before hardening off and transplanting into your garden. If you plan to sow directly into your garden, you do not have to wait until after the last frost date, as the seedlings are light frost-hardy. The seeds can be planted in the garden in early spring.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Plant ½ inch deep and 18 inches apart in 3 rows that are 12 inches apart. It is best to stagger your planting holes along each row for maximum growing room.

Container Requirements: Not recommended, due to space constraints (note how far apart they need to be grown).

Harvesting and Storage: The leaves are ready to be harvested when they are 4-6 inches long, and the florets should be harvested with 2-3 inches of the stem attached. Use a sharp knife or a pair of garden shears to make a clean cut. Use as soon as possible, as like most greens, broccoli rabe will only keep about a week in the refrigerator.

Harvesting Seeds: Not recommended, due to the ease with which this plant cross-pollinates with its relatives.

Pests to Monitor: Cutworms, Slugs, and Snails. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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