Growing broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in the vegetable garden or containers is easy to do. You can buy plants or raise them from seed. Try growing your own if you want lots of choices when it comes to varieties. Start the seeds indoors 4-5 weeks before you’d like to set them out. Older transplants won’t do as well in the garden. Cole crop seedlings (that’s the family broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage belong to) can take more cold than tender crops. I set mine out 2-3 weeks before our expected last-frost date. A floating row cover will protect them from excessive cold.
Prepare your garden beds with a minimum of 3 inches of good, preferably organic, compost. Containers should be at least 8 inches deep and filled with a mix of half compost and half soilless potting mix. Space broccoli 12″ apart. Follow seed pack or plant tag directions for spacing cauliflower and cabbage. Dotting onion sets or plants around in your cole crop beds will add vigor to everything growing there. Water in the transplants well with fish and seaweed emulsion. They’ll be healthier and better able to withstand cold, heat and insect predation.
Watch out for a nasty little insect called a cutworm. It comes up out of the soil, encircles the stem of your transplant and cuts it off – instant dinner! To prevent cutworm damage, place a sturdy 4″ long by 1/4-inch thick twig or ten penny nail next to the stem and bury it two inches into the soil as you put in the transplants. You’ll be glad you did!
Cabbage butterfly larvae are also a problem in my garden. Don’t be fooled by the name – they will chow down on any member of the cole crop family. Thankfully there is an organic solution. Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt is sold under trade names such as Dipel and Thuricide. It acts by stopping the feeding of larvae almost immediately. The good part is Bt leaves most everything else alone. Sure beats picking green worms out of your hot, buttered broccoli!
Harvest the main head of broccoli when the florets are nice and tight. Don’t wait or you’ll be picking a bouquet of tiny yellow flowers instead. If you select varieties that have good sideshoot growth, you can harvest bite-sized broccoli until a hard frost ends the season. Cold actually sweetens this veggie so kids may like it best in the autumn.
Most cauliflower varieties seem to be self-blanching now, which means there’s no need to tie the leaves over the top of the developing head to keep it white. Green, orange and purple varieties are also available. Be sure to harvest when the curds are tight for best flavor and crunch.
Cabbages can be picked whenever the heads are the size you like. If the heads are allowed to grow too long, a flower stalk will erupt out the top. Varieties with big, heavy heads are good for feeding a large family or making sauerkraut. Those with smaller heads will feed one or two people at a time. I’ve heard that you can cut off the primary head and mini-cabbages will form around the base, but I’ve never had much success with that method. It may work better in an area with a long growing season.