Cole Crazy: Broccoli for a Winter Garden

Broccoli imageRight about this time of year is when we witness unpredictable weather. We hope for a little consistency and temperance with our daily and nighttime temperature. Here in Texas we like to brag ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute’, a saying that has lost its source author but sounds great when joking about a Texas Gulf Coast winter. I would like to highlight one vegetable that is a storm and cold tolerant trooper in the garden: broccoli.

There will be similarities in growing conditions when comparing cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower or brussels sprouts. The optimal growing conditions for all are when daytime temps are moderate between 60 and 80-degrees and cool to cold nights at 40 to 50-degrees. They all perform best in fertile, well-drained soils so planting in raised beds with supplemental composted organic matter is optimal. A general rule of thumb for watering these vegetables is to keep the soil moist but not soaked. Mulch as appropriate and as always, modify watering dependent on seasonal rains. About four weeks after transplanting, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable specialist Dr. Joe Masabni recommends applying one pound of fertilizer for each 30-feet of row and beside the plants.

Broccoli is one of my favorite cool season vegetables to grow in the fall and winter garden. They are one of the easiest plants to work with this time of year. You can still plant broccoli in the ground this late in the season, but you will need to purchase immature plants from local nurseries and retail outlets. For fall planting, broccoli is best started from seed late August to late September. Make sure to space them 18 to 24-inches apart so that they have a chance to produce large heads and side-shoots as you harvest. Broccoli will weather light freezes and will perform adequately with sustained freeze if allowed to acclimate from an early planting ahead of true winter and covered to prevent freeze damage.

For the novice grower, the small green ‘trees’ are made up of tightly packed unopened flowers. While we focus on these floral heads for our table, both heads, supporting stems and leaves can be eaten. Harvesting the floral heads is a simple matter: you would cut the center head when the individual buds begin to swell and barely open to reveal yellow-colored flowers. You can continue to harvest side sprouts throughout the season. A few broccoli varieties that perform well in Brazoria County and can begin harvest in less than two months are Calabrese (48 days), Green Comet (40 days), Green Magic (57 days) and Packman (50 days). For more veggie related information, browse online to the Brazoria County AgriLife Extension Horticulture webpage to find links to vegetable varieties and vegetable planting guides for Brazoria County:

Broccoli is a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins when properly prepared for the table. Information about broccoli and other vegetables support the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service initiative Path to Plate, a research-based education program that helps consumers understand how food choices impact their health. Thank you for the opportunity to preserve and serve, check out our events section for more information and program schedule and I’ll see you in the garden.

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