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With some care, healthful broccoli can grow here

A general interest in healthful food has made broccoli a staple part of the American diet. The delicious vegetable, eaten either cooked or raw, contains vitamins and iron as well as calcium needed to produce strong bones.

"Can broccoli be grown in a Florida garden?" someone is sure to ask.

The cold weather vegetable should be planted to mature during late winter months.

Sow seeds in pots or flats not long after the new year begins. Set transplants in garden soil after the last frost date.

While transplants grow, prepare the garden to receive new plants. Spread and work in compost and well-rotted barnyard manure. If none should be available, the dehydrated type sold in garden centers will do nicely.

Set transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows. To avoid premature heading, be sure plant roots have not become pot-bound.

To keep plants growing quickly, give each a cup of compost or manure tea weekly.

To help keep the planting area weed-free, mulch heavily, as much as 2 or 3 inches deep. Mulch not only helps to retard weed growth, but it also conserves soil moisture and helps to keep plant roots cool.

Supply 1 inch of water at least once each week.

When heads appear, cut each before yellow florets open. After main head removal, each plant will send out side shoots. Broccoli spears also provide good eating and may require harvesting almost every other day.

Watch maturing plants closely. Uneven or deformed heads can result from mildew or bacterial wilt.

Keep a sharp lookout for possible cabbage worms. A Bt preparation or dusting with agricultural lime should send the intruders skittering.

Eight well-cared-for plants should adequately supply a family of four.

Leo Van Meer's book, Natural Gardening, is available from Van Meer Publishing, P.O. Box 8127, Clearwater, FL 33758 ($10.95 post-paid, plus 77 cents sales tax). Address questions about vegetable gardening to Garden Naturally, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or electronically to