The facts are in: Broccoli is a super food. Even if you don’t like vegetables, this is really one you should try to fit into your diet. Packed with all kinds of calcium, fiber and antioxidants, broccoli can pump up the health factor of any meal. And what could be better than the homegrown version?

Fresh broccoli

Fresh, tasty broccoli is a cool-weather crop that can be harvested in either fall or spring.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Young broccoli

Broccoli can be planted as seed or as transplants. Transplants can be purchased at many local hardware stores, garden centers or nurseries.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Broccoli and pig

Broccoli can actually be quite decorative if planted right. Plant 18 inches apart in diagonal rows to create a nice pattern around statuary or garden ornaments.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Cabbage worm damage

The green cabbage worm (in the center of the leaf on the right) is a serious pest. It can consume entire leaves in just a day or so.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Broccoli can be started from seed or planted as transplants (which you can find at most garden centers). Before planting, be sure to work your soil and incorporate plenty of compost and a balanced fertilizer. Broccoli is a heavy feeder, so it may not do as well in poor soil. (Crop rotation can also help heavy feeders like broccoli. So can planting in a fallow plot that’s been heavily amended with a composted manure and fertilizer.)

This super food takes about 16 weeks to grow from seed to harvest. Start the seeds indoors in flats about 12 weeks before the last frost for spring planting. The young plants should be transplanted no later than 5 or 6 weeks before the last frost. If you plant in fall, be sure to get out the seeds or transplants at least 16 weeks before the first frost.

To prevent cutworms from reaching the young plants, plant your broccoli transplants in a ring of thin cardboard, such as a toilet paper or paper towel roll that’s been trimmed down to about 2 inches. Keep the top of the roll about an inch above the soil line to stop the worms in their tracks. Another pest to keep an eye out for is the cabbage worm. If you notice any of these green caterpillars eating the broccoli leaves during the growing season, remove them by hand if you can. (But if you’ve got a serious infestation, use Bt.)

Broccoli can take much cooler weather than most annual vegetables, but feel free to cover your crop with a sheet or protective frost covering if you expect a hard frost. You should harvest the vegetable before the florets start blooming. Allow the head to grow to the point that it’s not hard (but while it’s still a fairly tight bunch). Take a sharp knife and cut the base of the broccoli head from the plant. Then soak the entire bunch in water for about 15 minutes to drown any insects that may be hiding.

Like many vegetables, broccoli can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s a wonderful addition to a green salad or veggie platter along with other raw vegetables like carrots, peppers or cherry tomatoes. It’s also great steamed or added to casseroles and soups.

No matter how you serve these little green “trees,” you’re sure to punch up the health of any recipe with a little homegrown broccoli.