Cool season cole crops – grow your own – part I – broccoli

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Now is the perfect time to take advantage of our “cooler” weather and plant a vegetable garden that will not only save you money, but also add fresh, nutritious vegetables to your diet. Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cabbage, and kale, members of a group of vegetables called Cole crops, are incredibly easy to grow. Started from seed or transplants, these vegetables will thrive in our relatively cool, fall/winter climate and don’t need a tremendous amount of space to grow.

Like all of the “Cole crops”, broccoli does best during our fall and winter season. We commonly grow “sprouting broccoli” in the United States. The familiar branching cluster of sprouts with side sprouts is really a large edible, flower head. Your first harvest can occur in as early as 60 days for some varieties; up to 100 days for others. Start your broccoli patch in a full sun area and work plenty of compost into the soil. Also, work in a commercial granular fertilizer suitable for vegetables such as 8-8-8 or its equivalent as per label instructions, one to two weeks before planting. Band some additional fertilizer at planting time in one or two bands each two to three inches to the side of and one to two inches below the plant row. Four to five-week old transplants work better than direct seeding and should be placed 18-24 inches apart in rows about 36 inches apart. To avoid pests such as cutworms which may chew down a tender young transplant, place a four-inch cardboard collar around each newly planted plant to act as a barrier. As the plants grow, consider applying a side dressing of granular vegetable fertilizer as per label instructions. There are many broccoli varieties to choose from. ‘Early Green’,’ Early Dividend’, ‘Green Sprouting/Calabrese’, ‘Waltham’, ‘Packman’ are all very suitable for Florida gardens. Check local garden centers for availability. When should you harvest your broccoli? Make sure to pick it when the head is tight and compact. Include a good five inches of stalk with the head.  Don’t wait too long as yellow flowers will begin to open at some point decreasing the quality of the broccoli. As an added bonus, side  shoots will develop offering smaller, but steady harvests for some time. Store unwashed in a plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. Rinse well before eating or cooking.

Another broccoli-like cole crop is called broccoli raab.  Not as popular as regular broccoli, broccoli raab is not directly related to broccoli.  it is very different as it grown for its leaves and flower shoots.   Similar in flavor to broccoli, broccoli raab has a stronger taste. Grow it as you would other greens and direct broadcast seed it in rows spaced 12 to 24 inches apart, so that about fifteen plants are growing per foot of row.  One recommended cultivar is called ‘Sessentina.’

An additional broccoli relative to explore is Chinese broccoli.  The leaves are much bigger than regular broccoli and the flower heads are relatively small.  Six-inch long flowering stems are picked just before the flowers open up, but harvesting those with a few open flower buds is fine.  This type of Cole crop is often stir-fried.

Cole crops do great in Southwest Florida.  Next week we will discuss the growing of cabbage, collards and kale – vegetables just as easy to grow in your own backyard!  For more information on growing vegetables in your own garden, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – .

Park Brown, S. Treadwell, D., Stephens J. M., & Webb, S. (2016) Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
Stephens, J.M. (2015) Broccoli – Brassica oleracea. UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Stephens, J.M. (2015) Broccoli, Chinese—Brassica alboglabra L. UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Stephens, J.M. (2015) Broccoli, Raab—Brassica rapa L. (Ruvo group).  UF/IFAS Extension Service.

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