Cole Crops: The Goldilocks of Vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, and kohlrabi are not the easiest vegetables for spring growing in Wisconsin. They’re a bit fussy. Wisconsin’s climate is a bit, how can I say this politely, unpredictable. Before cole crops have four or so leaves, they don’t mind a little nip in the air, though they can’t take a hard frost. After that they want to grow over a nice climate controlled summer, as if they had air conditioning for days over 75 degrees F (20 C) and central heating for days under 50 degrees (10 C). Too hot and they languish, too cold while they’re yourng and they’ll bolt or button (sounds cute, but it isn’t). Once they reach maturity, they are tough as nails and love the cold, in fact harvest is at its best after a frost or two, until then what they do not want is stress. Wimps.

Wisconsin in the spring, has terrible temperature swings. Part of me knew better than to even try, but oddly the other part seems to win more often than not. I started out with high hopes, planting the seeds indoors and expecting them to sprout in a week or two, but no, they were in a hurry. Now they’re ahead of schedule like guests who come early to find you still mopping up. They need to go out regardless of the forecast (the cole crops, not the guests). There are a couple of things to be done to moderate the temperature. They’ll start out with floating row cover to capture a few extra degrees of heat until temperatures get too warm. An added benefit is the protection it will offer from the cabbage whites. Yes, I saw one yesterday.

My love claims the weather forecasters expect a cool summer. I’ll do my best to baby them with the even moisture and nitrogen they like, and hope they reward me with a generous bounty or at least a few respectable meals. If not, well, I’ll bite back my pride and remember, there’s always the fall.

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23 Responses to “Cole Crops: The Goldilocks of Vegetables”

  1. Rule 94 of gardening: don’t take any of it personally.

    I made up the rule part, but you know, you can do everything “right” and still have a poor crop.

    I planted broccoli as a winter crop this past year, and all looked good. Then it bolted! We got a small, small handful of florettes and some beautiful yellow flowers!

    Best of luck.

  2. This post is so useful. Toronto area springs are equally unpredictable and summers are too sweltering hot for many vegetables, so you have to time certain ones just so or they will bolt or whither.

  3. Here in Northern California, we juggle with the cole crops. Too much summer heat is the issue. Midsummer planting seems to work with our long season. I love the description of perpetual gardening optimism.

  4. LubbyGirl Says:

    Yeah, this is pretty much what we’ve faced with our broccoli. But last year we did get a smidgen out of it, which I thoroughly enjoyed and was very grateful for. Lord willing, we’ll try again this year. Hubby hasn’t gotten his greenhouse remodel completed yet, but the seeds are on the back porch, already coming up! Loved reading this!

  5. personalgardencoach Says:

    Just planted mine in my new giant veggie troughs. Tonight it’s trheatening to hail, geesh! Hey, why do they call them Cole Crops? Great post again!

  6. patsquared2 Says:

    You have courage! I have always toyed with the idea of planting cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage but have had such bad luck with brussel sprouts and broccoli rabe that I stopped planting and starting visiting the Amish auction. I got 5 cases of absolutely beautiful cauliflower last September for $22 and I avoided the heartbreak of bolting, buttoning and cabbage moths!

  7. Hi! Wanted to share some optimistic thoughts regarding broccoli. I live in zone 6, intermountain west where spring is a wild ride in terms of temps and summers are hot. However, I’ve grown great broccoli the last 3 years (knock on wood for this year). I purchase small starts (‘Packman’) and plant them in raised beds in April/May and then use the row covers like you suggested. Each year, I get a large center floret but once I cut that off, I get tons of side shoots (smaller florets) and it usually lasts until July 1. I think the key is raised beds and row cover to regulate temps, even the sun when it gets really hot. Good luck, I don’t mean to make it sound easy just that it’s possible to get a great crop!

    P.S. I like the way you write!

    • Bless you for that ray of hope! Thanks for the kind words, too. I have to restrain myself from using too many bad puns, e.g. calling myself a “stone cole killer.” Heaven help me, I think things like that are funny.

  8. I know exactly about that side of us that goes ahead and plants prematurely and the seedlings pay for our impatience – been there and done that myself.

    I happily planted many vegetable seeds (original to India, but flourishing in private vegetables gardens in the U.S too now) earlier than usual this year, thanks to a mild winter. I hope the summer won’t be too bad, or the plants would languish, like you mention.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    • That sounds very interesting. I’d love to hear more about the vegetables, their unique qualities, where they came from (climate-wise) and what dishes they’re used for in India.

  9. I’m enjoying your writer’s voice. Relaxed but informative and you know how to turn a phrase.

  10. We are in Rochester, NY (south of Lake Ontario, south of Toronto). I have grown other cole crops in the past, but my family and neighbors are unanimous in support of my collards, which is good because my garden is unavoidable shady.

    However, I no longer “plant” them, but let natural selection work. Using a complaint from a friend (“I let them go to seed one year and they grew like weeds!”) I decided to let them go to seed, collect them and broadcast in a general area, then thin them later. It worked beyond my wildest hopes, and I should have thinned way more aggressively…!

    This year I planned to be more targeted in where I dribble them, and thin more aggressively, but may not need to; I noticed that where I pulled back the mulch, additional seeds from last year were already starting to sprout! I am going to transplant these where I want them and rogue out the rest. I suspect that, if I wished, I could grow other cole crops the same way.

    I have learned that many plants will reseed/plant themselves, in which case all I need to do is eliminate what I don’t want or relocate. A year-round mulch may make this easier (I’ve been gardening this way for 15+ years), but that’s another (rather long) discussion and perhaps a subject for my blog, later on.

    • Sounds interesting. I’ve never eaten collards; I always think of them as a southern crop. I look forward to your future post.

    • i also love letting plants go to seed. my backyard garden continues to feed me year after year with self-seeding loveliness: green and purple orach, mustard greens, dill, ect… it amazes me how far the orach will travel. and i am reminded that i need to be a little more aggressive in my thinning too.

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