With this post we’ll be covering how to grow broccoli with hydroponics.
Different varieties of broccoli can be grown successfully in a hydroponics setup. Brassicas have enjoyed continuous popularity through the years because of their improved nutritional value and being adopted by different types of modern cuisine.
The pervasiveness of Brassicas in different regions has also made it one of the most commercially viable crops around, and those who are thinking of hydroponically farming Brassicas will have an easy time bringing their harvests to market.
Broccoli can easily be planted in a hydroponics setup and as long as you have the minimum equipment and supplies to sustain the crop for an entire growing season, you will be able to successfully cultivate hydroponic broccoli. Here are some guidelines in planting hydroponic broccoli:
1. The most popular and widespread variety of broccoli in North America is the Calabrese variety. Depending on your location, you may want to shift to another variety to suit market preferences or environmental conditions. It’s also possible to succeed in introducing different broccoli varieties if you want to create diversity in your crops.
There are broccoli varieties that have higher decorative value such as the Romanesco variety that produces purple or even white flowerets. Talk to fellow growers/farmers in your area and research about the most popular and most robust varieties to experiment with, if this is your first time ever to grow hydroponic broccoli.
2. Broccoli is grown from seeds. Obtain viable seeds from a trusted supplier and prepare the equipment needed for germinating the seeds. If you want a germination setup with the works, you can obtain a seed tray, heating mat, dome/cover for the seed tray, a germination solution for pre-soaking, and of course, the starter plugs.
Using starter plugs is by far the simplest way to germinate seeds until they are viable enough to be transferred to the main hydroponics setup. Brands like Rapid Rooter are excellent for different kinds of crops, so do choose wisely as viable seedlings will mean more robust and disease-resistant broccoli.
2. Add anywhere between two to four seeds of broccoli for every starter plug in your tray. The starter plugs should ideally be pre-soaked before use, as this will prepare the material of the starter plugs to begin nourishing the seeds.
Be careful not to overwater the starter plugs at any point during the germination as this may cause the seeds to rot. When you have filled up your seedling tray with a sufficient number of starter plugs and each starter plug has been filled with seeds, place the tray in a dark area to encourage the seedlings to break through the surface.
When the seedlings begin to appear, it’s time to bring the seedling tray to a well-lit area (like the space near a kitchen window) or if you want you can place them in your grow cabinet or greenhouse, whichever place is applicable. During the germination stage of the broccoli, try to maintain an ambient air temperature of at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Both light availability and air temperature are extremely important in cultivating robust seedlings of any species. When the seedlings emerge, the air temperature can be cooled down as the broccoli is better attuned to a cooler environment.
During the regular growing phase of broccoli, aim to keep the average ambient temperature around the greenhouse or growing cabinet to 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit to obtain optimal results.
3. Can broccoli be cloned? Yes, it can be successfully cloned and cultivated in a hydroponic setup. Crop cloning can help save you time and money as you no longer have to spend time on germinating seeds and transferring them.
On the downside, not everyone can master cloning plants overnight and there are just some instances when the cuttings do not grow as intended. There is also the option of using store-bought broccoli plants – however, this is the most expensive of all the options and may not be right for all types of growers as some growers are working with a strict budget.
4. What type of hydroponics systems are ideal for broccoli? Fortunately, Brassicas have been grown in a wide variety of hydroponics systems before and they are not so picky with the actual system design.
As long as the system is able to deliver nutrients, aeration and moisture efficiently, broccolis will be able to grow properly. Some examples of hydroponics systems that work well with Brassicas are the Dutch bucket, NFT, and of course, the classic ebb and flow hydroponics setup.
If you are a complete beginner and you don’t have the necessary know-how or expertise to engineer your own homemade system, what you can do is just purchase complete, ready to assemble systems and you can just upgrade the system later on, as you build familiarity with it. Different upgrades can be done to hydroponics systems as the grower begins to scale up and expand his cultivation of different crops.
5. Checking the pH and EC levels of your nutrient solution is imperative if you want to maintain healthy plants. Generally speaking, the ideal pH level range for broccoli is between 5.5 to 6.5 only.
What happens when the pH levels fall below or exceeds the ideal range? Since a hydroponics system will eventually balance itself out, there are situations when slight fluctuations in pH will not immediately harm the crops in the system.
However, if the pH fluctuations are constant, there is the possibility that your crops will suffer from malnutrition brought about by nutrient lock. Nutrient lock occurs when either pH level of the water is too high/low, or the salts concentration of the water is too high.
Proper spacing of crops is important because if the net pots are too close together, the root systems of the crops will run out of available oxygen and in some situations, even available nutrients.
Available oxygen is essential for the normal functioning of root systems and for the proper growth of plants. Having sufficient oxygen in the water also means that you will be able to reduce the instance of plant disease associated with low-oxygen conditions.
In the case of broccoli, the rows themselves should be spaced 12 to 16 inches apart. There should be sufficient space in between the net pots to allow the leaves of the Brassica to spread out upon maturity.
If the leaves of the broccoli begin hindering light for nearby plants, the leaves would have to be trimmed minimally to maintain adequate dispersion and absorption of light. The trimming must be done whether your broccolis are planted in a greenhouse or indoors where the plants are completely dependent on LED grow lights.
Broccolis can thrive with either fluorescent grow lights or LED grow lights. HID lighting is definitely off the list as HIDs tend to generate a lot of heat, and this may make temperature regulation in indoor setups or even in greenhouses more complicated. While it’s true that LED grow lights generate intense heat especially if they are designed to light a wide space, they don’t generate as much heat (or use as much energy) as their HID counterparts.
There is not much difference between the growing time of soil-grown broccoli and hydroponically grown broccoli. So long as the ideal conditions are met for the cultivation of this crop, you should be able to harvest mature broccoli in as little as 100 days.
Some varieties require 150 days for full maturity. Broccoli that is grown from cuttings (also called clones) can be ready in as short as 80 days.
The buds of the broccoli should be cut when they are still green, and the central head of a mature plant should be cut with up to six inches of the stem.
Since you can use a variety of special fertilizers in a hydroponics system and you have full control of the pH of the water and the amount of nutrients that your plants will receive, we can confidently say that hydroponically-grown broccoli has the potential to taste better than regular soil broccoli.