Broccoli flower head beginning to form. These heads are actually hundreds of little flowers. Harvest the head as soon as you see any yellow tint begining to form.
Right now, I am eating so much broccoli that my skin has a greenish tint! Back in September I planted 36 plants of three different varieties and now I am being rewarded with tons of big, full heads of broccoli every night. Now there is absolutely no way that my wife and I can eat this much broccoli. However, that is never really a problem. To me, one of the greatest joys that I receive from my garden is the ability to share my harvests. People are always so happy to receive fresh, all organic produce directly from the garden.
The first four heads that I harvested this year. the large head in the back was 8" in diameter.
You might wonder why on earth I planted so many broccoli plants. I normally grow broccoli in the fall, just not this much. However, this year I was offered an opportunity that I just could not pass up. The largest gardening program in Texas, Central Texas Gardener, offered to come and film my little potager. I was thrilled. However, there was a catch; they wanted to film in December! So, I had a challenge. What could I grow that would make the potager look great in the middle of the incredibly unpredictable Texas winter? So, that’s how I wound up with so much broccoli. I needed something fool proof to make sure my garden looked good for the cameras of CTG and broccoli fit the bill.
Now my garden does not have just broccoli in it. It also has a lot of cauliflower and cabbage (plus flowers and lots of other root crops). They made the cut for the same reason as the broccoli, they are fool proof.
Notice the slight yellow starting to show. this head is ready for harvest.
Broccoli belongs to the plant family Brassicaceae. The genus is brassica and plants that belong to it are often called simply brassicas or cole crops. Cole comes from the Latin word caulis which means stem or cabbage. The genus Brassicas contains some of the most important agricultural crops in the world. This family has been a favorite food of humans for so long that there are species that have been improved to allow us to eat literally every part of the plant. Rutabagas and turnips are brassicas that are grown for their roots. Kholrabi is grown for its stems. Cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and mustard are grown for their leaves. Broccoli and cabbage are grown for their large, edible flower heads. All brassicas are very good for you. They contain vitamin C, lots of soluble fiber and various cancer fighting compounds as well.
Growing Cole Crops – Almost all cole crops are great choices for the garden. In fact, because of the mild winters that we have in Zones 7 thru 9, we can usually grow them in both the spring and the fall garden. Brassicas like cooler weather and they can easily survive temperatures in the middle twenties. It grows best when the daily temperature is in the mid seventies and nights are 20 degrees cooler. Because of this, it is best to plant your brassicas in early spring (February) or late fall (September). Most varieties in this genus mature in 90 to 120 days so plant according to when temperatures will be best suited for them. Do not plant too late in the season as they strongly dislike high heat.
I love the large foliage of broccoli.
Brassicas need full sun exposure and respond best to soil that drains well and has been deeply worked with compost. All brassicas are fairly pest free but they can get aphids. They are also often plagued by cabbage worms and cabbage loppers. Both of these pests are the larva of moths and they can defoliate a plant if the infestation is severe (more likely to happen in the spring). You can control these with floating row cover or BT.
The brassica’s biggest enemy in the fall is the grasshopper. Young plants are very susceptible to grasshopper feeding. To help the plant beat the grasshoppers, place one gallon tin cans with the top and bottom cut out over the plants until they are about a foot tall. I am not really sure why this works, but it does. My theory is that either the grasshopper can’t see the plant or they cannot fly in way that allows them land inside of the can.
As far as I know, I have grown every type of brassica and I love them all. However, broccoli has a trait that makes it my favorite of all the cole crops. With most cole crops, you harvest the vegetable and then the plant is done. Not broccoli. Cut the green head and in a few days, additional little florets will start to form around the site of the cut. While these florets will not reach the size of the original flower head, they are just as tasty and each plant will produce several of them.
Little broccoli florets forming around the site of an earlier harvest.
In my mind, cole crops are the absolute best plant family to grow in the fall Texas garden. Give them good soil, plenty of sun and regular water and they will reward you with some of the most flavorful and nutritious things you can take from your garden.