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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

The Cole Crop Family

by National Gardening Association Editors

Gardeners often group broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi together as "cole crops". Cole is the German word for cabbage, hence the term "cole slaw". Cole crops are hardy and grow best in cool weather. An easy way to remember this is to think how much "cole" sounds like "cold" or "cool".

Sprouting Cole Crops

Cole crop seed is slightly more tender than the mature plant. In order to sprout, it must be planted in rich, moist soil with the air temperature about 60° F and the soil temperature at least 45° F. Germination occurs four to eight days after planting seeds.

Once a seed sprouts, it sends down the start of its taproot while the stem and first leaves develop. These first leaves are called seed leaves. True leaves appear next and the plant is on its way toward fulfilling its natural goal: to produce flower buds that will eventually open and give way to a seed stalk.

Cabbage and Brussels sprouts actually surround a seed case with their tightly folded leaves, forming a head. Broccoli and cauliflower heads, or "curds", are tight bunches of the buds themselves.

Once the heads have formed, they gradually loosen (unless you pick them, of course) to make room for the seed stalk to develop. This loosening action is triggered under certain temperature, daylight and growing conditions, causing the plant to bolt, or go to seed.

Broccoli - Sprouts with Clout!

When broccoli first came to this country from Italy, it was considered exotic. Now, it's as much a part of our gardens and kitchens as peas or carrots.

The bluish green mature heads of broccoli can be harvested from early summer to late fall, depending on your climate and growing conditions. Once the first large head is harvested, most broccoli varieties produce smaller side, or lateral, shoots that extend the harvest for weeks.

In the North, plant broccoli in the early spring and again in midsummer for a fall harvest. The only time the plants won't produce heads is during the hottest weeks of summer. Your fall crop, however, will keep bearing shoots after the rest of your garden is spent. In the South, plant in late winter for an early summer harvest or early fall for winter harvesting. In warmer areas, you might want to try overwintering broccoli varieties.

There are several dependable, early varieties of broccoli, among them:

  • 'DeCicco' takes 55 days to the first harvest of large, tight, dark green center heads, followed by weeks of many side shoots.
  • 'Green Comet Hybrid' is extra early, maturing in only 40 days. Its disease- and heat-resistant qualities make up for the fact that it only produces a single, large head with few, if any, side shoots.
  • 'Italian Green Sprouting' broccoli is widely available and good for both spring and fall crops. The head reaches a five- or six-inch harvestable size about 70 days from transplanting and produces many light green, tender side shoots. 'Romanesco' is another, later, Italian variety that produces conical, creamy green heads covered with spears that rise in a spiral to the top. Matures in 75 days.
  • 'Packman Hybrid' matures in only 53 days. This is a dependable, early variety with good side-shoot development.
  • 'Premium Crop Hybrid' is a main-season variety that matures in 82 days. It produces large heads, but few side shoots.
  • 'Green Goliath' matures compact, blue-green heads in 55 days. It produces an abundance of side shoots and freezes well.

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