I’m pleased to have Susan of Itzy Bitzy Farm sharing today! She is a wealth of gardening info, and will give you everything you need to know about planting cold weather crops. (This is something I really need to work on!)
When the heat of Summer is at its highest, that is when I know it is time to think about planting cold weather crops for Fall and early Winter harvest.
Many gardeners do not realize that from zones 5-8 one can grow two plantings of cold crops such as broccoli, cabbage, turnips, peas, beets, carrots and many types of greens. Today we will discuss cole crops.
It is very difficult for me to choose a favorite veggie to grow but if I had to choose my top three I would have to say broccoli. No, cabbage. Wait!….brussel sprouts. Well, I love all cole crops.
What is a “Cole Crop”?
Cole means stem. Cole crops are part of a large genus Brassica– Old World temperate-zone herbs of the mustard family. The mustard family includes broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, turnips and rutabaga.
Cole crops are hardy and grow best in the spring and fall. My preference is Fall growing especially for broccoli and cabbage and my main reason for this is, that as the temperatures drop so do the insect populations. Thus, all natural pest control.
Successful growing of cole crops is related to how each crop grows and which plant part is eaten. For example, edible parts of broccoli and cauliflower are the flower heads which are quite sensitive to cold and nutritional deficiencies. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts produce leafy heads and can withstand greater fluctuations in weather and nutrition.
How to Choose a Planting Site for Fall Broccoli
Cole crops will tolerate some shade but full sun is always preferable. If garden space is such that some vegetables will have to be partially shaded, save the full-sun area for warm season crops.
Idea Soil for Cole Crops
A wide range of soils is suitable for cole crops, but fertile, well-drained loams are considered best, especially for early crops. Cole crops will grow better in heavier, cooler soils than warm season crops.
What to Feed Cole Crops:
A soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for the family of cole crops. But, they are heavy feeders and do best in a deep, fertile soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. A soil test will determine deficiencies of major plant nutrients and recommend ways to correct them. Because cole crops can easily become deficient in minor elements, at least part of the fertilizer material should be composted manure or composted vegetable matter to ensure a supply of these nutrients. Of the four crops, cauliflower is the most exacting in soil and fertility requirements.
When to Plant Cole Crops:
Fall crops can be directly sown into the beds in early July through mid August depending on your zone. Be aware of the length of days to harvest for the particular variety you wish to grow. Many broccoli and cabbage heirloom varieties can range anywhere from 70-95 days, so plant accordingly. A calendar is a gardener’s best friend.
When direct-seeding, plant seed 1/4 inch deep. In raised beds such as what I grow in, I use a 4′ x 8′ box and grow 5 broccoli plants and 6 cabbage plants in there. When growing in a garden, cole crops should be planted 18-24″ apart in rows 24″ apart.
We recommend seaweed & fish emulsion food which come in liquid form which is mixed with water and applied as a foliar and soil fertilizer. Feed when planting seedlings and four weeks later.
My favorite and most successful form of weed control is mulching with straw. This not only controls weeds well but also aids in moisture retention.
The first line of defense against all insect pests and diseases of cole crops is crop rotation. Do not plant any cole crop in a spot occupied the previous year by another cole family member. Two or three-year rotations are even better.
To help control cabbage worms and leaf eaters I dust with food-grade diatomaceous earth.
- Cabbage— Harvest when the head is very firm. Springy heads are not mature.
- Broccoli-– Harvest while the head is still compact and before the small flower buds open up to show yellow. Head diameter will range from 4 to 8 inches. After this center head is harvested side shoots (heads) of 2 to 3 inches will develop providing a second and even third picking
- Brussels sprouts– Small, cabbage-like sprouts develop along the thick stem, maturing first at thebase of the plant. As the sprouts enlarge, remove the large leaves between the sprouts. Pinch out the growing tip of the plants in early September to hasten maturity. Harvest the sprouts when they are firm and before they open up. A light frost or two improves their flavor.
Mature cole crops are quite hardy and will withstand several frosts (or even snow) in the fall; therefore, “garden storage” is feasible well into October or November, even later for the hardiest varieties of kale and Brussels sprouts.
Late fall or winter cabbage can be stored for several months if kept in humid conditions as close to freezing as possible. Store only disease-free heads. Remove loose outer leaves and place in containers lined with perforated plastic bags. Pull out the cabbages and hang in a moist cellar, roots and all, or cut heads, remove loose outer leaves and spread one layer deep on shelves or pallets in a moist root cellar.
Our favorite Broccoli variety is Waltham 29. Cabbage varieties that we like are Earlianna, Fast Vantage and Stonehead.
Brussel Sprouts are a great veggie to grow and our one and only favorite is Royal Marvel. This variety takes 85 days to maturity and has sweet, uniform sprouts.
These are just a few recommendations from our farm. There are many varieties and it is always fun to try a new one that you have not grown before.
I always say, be adventurous in the garden, have fun and get really dirty! The garden season does not have to end September 1st. When you grow cold weather crops you can still have a bountiful harvest in December. Enjoy!
Susan Berry is the owner of Itzy Bitzy Farm in Southeastern Massachusetts. She has a degree in horticulture and after farming on 5 acres in North Carolina with her husband for 9 years they returned to Susan’s home state of Massachusetts and now specialize in small scale homesteading on less than 1/4 acre. Susan enjoys teaching suburban families how to grow their own food and live a homestead lifestyle in a small space. Susan also cans much of the food she grows and has a flock of 12 hens. Her specialty is propagating and selling asparagus crowns to home gardeners. You can follow her blog at itzybitzyfarm.com
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom says
Great timing! I have 2 varieties of broccoli seed waiting here for me to do something w/ them. We live in Michigan. From your post, am I correct in assuming that I can plant the seeds directly into the ground? We do have 4 beds that are open–sadly, our tomatoes didn’t do well :(.
We have Black Walnuts, which we think are the culprits regarding the tomatoes, so broccoli and leafies might be our only shot this time of year.
Thanks in advance!
Itzy Bitzy Farm says
Sue from Itzy Bitzy Farm here. Yes, you are correct in direct sowing. If you mulch heavily with straw or Fall leaves you may even be able to fend off frost or a light freeze to keep the crops growing. Cabbage can be buried in mulch and Winter over in many places, but Broccoli needs to be harvest before a freeze. As to the Black Walnut. BW tree roots give off a toxin into the soil that is extremely detrimental to all vegetable crops. It is best to grow veggies away from BW’s. Keep us posted on your cole crops. Have Fun,
It was brought to my attention that straw is sprayed with chemicals so I don’t want to use straw in my garden now.
Leslie Ha says
Great post, I needed this. The end of summer is so sad for me and now I have something to look forward to. I have never tried cold weather gardening and really look forward to it.
Itzy Bitzy Farm says
So glad this inspired you to grow cold weather crops. It is awesome! If you follow my blog I have another post there showing my carrots that I harvested last January. Just pushed the snow aside, then the Fall leaves that were under the snow them wiggled the carrot tops from side to side and pull out a a bunch for dinner! The leaves and snow keep the soil from completely freezing and the carrots continued to grow. I had sown those seeds in September. You can do that with beets and turnips as well. Enjoy!
Sue ~ Itzy Bitzy Farm
Rachel Gordon says
I have problems with the bagrada bug, similar to the squash bug. Nothing I have used, organically has worked. I hose them off the plant and till up the soil where they lay their eggs, but I was wondering if you think DE might be effective. I hate to kill the beneficial insects, but these bagrada bugs just take over. It’s crazy!
Itzy Bitzy Farm says
DE is great for soil living pests. Do not go deeper than 4 inches with it. never till DE in. just scratch it in. Most times earth worms will be deeper than the effects of DE go and be safe from it.
Can you tell how to find out what zone Im in? I live in Colorado. Thanks for the great post!
check out this site to determine your plant hardiness zone: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/ … just plug in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you live in
Susan Berry says
Go here and enter your zip code.
Our garden boxes are all full. But our hoop house has some empty boxes. Would you reccommend sowing in there? Or would it get too hot since its still summer?
Susan Berry says
They would germinate but if it gets too hot after germination they may bolt. Can you open the hoop house to let it cool?
Itzy Bitzy Farm says
Love all the questions, keep them coming.
It seems to me that cole vegetables are prime candidates for strawbale gardening.
I am excited to try again this fall. I gave up on Brassicas due to Cabbage White caterpillars. Those little buggers ate every stitch of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower I tried to grow. I would go out and hand pick them off and go back the next day to find just as many. Besides planting in the fall is there anything else I should do to prevent them from taking over again?
So I FINALLY got around to reading this one. I have some Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli seeds. I have read conflicting directions on the best planting time for this variety. I tried in spring. It came up and died. Then, I planted again on August first. It never came up. I’m frustrated! Any specific tips on this kind?
I am trying to grow brassica in zone 7b this spring season. I watched a YouTube video from Scott Head and David the Good that said if you wanna grow it then try it out if you fail, learn and try again. Also Scott Head said that the greens from broccoli can be dried and processed then added into things. Even if I get no broccoli heads I am totally hoping I get green leaves!