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&deg F and the soil temperature at least 45&deg 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.

Brussels Sprouts

Even though Brussels sprouts have been a mealtime tradition for hundreds of years, many people dislike them. You may change your mind, however, if you grow your own. The difference between frozen supermarket sprouts and your own, fresh from the garden, is unbelievable.

Growing Brussels sprouts is almost as much fun as eating them. They start out looking just like cabbage or broccoli, but as they grow, the stems become tall and thick and sprouts pop out above each large leaf along the main stems. They look like miniature palm trees. You add to this look by breaking off the lower leaves once the harvest begins. The stems can end up two to three feet high, loaded with sprouts.

This vegetable originated in Brussels, Belgium, and is still extremely popular in Europe. As more Americans try them, Brussels sprouts are becoming better known and enjoyed in this country, too.

'Long Island Improved' is the most popular variety of Brussels sprouts. 'Jade Cross' is desirable for its disease resistance and 'Rubine Red' for its red foliage and sprouts. These varieties mature 80 to 90 days after transplanting, and they grow best as a fall and early winter crop. The sprouts not only withstand frosts, their flavor improves as the weather gets cooler.

Cabbage - King of the Garden

Cabbages of all kinds are a snap to grow and are one of the few salad vegetables you can have available from your garden well into winter. Raw cabbage is said to possess great healing power, and at one time it was prized by the Egyptians.

Cabbages can be either early, for spring planting, midseason, for planting anytime, or late for a fall crop. One thing to remember is that the late varieties need a longer growing season than the others, so you may end up planting your fall harvest earlier than a midseason variety. Check the seed packet for the days to maturity. Count back from the time you'd like to begin harvesting, and you'll have a handy planting and harvesting timetable.

Because cabbages are biennial plants, you don't have to worry about them going to seed in the garden. The main problem that gardeners have with cabbages is splitting heads, or no heads at all.

Following is a list of cabbage varieties, including red cabbage and Savoy cabbage, that should do well in most gardens.

  • 'Stonehead' (65 to 70 days to maturity). Extremely solid heads; 6 inches in diameter; yellows resistant; early variety; short core.
  • 'Early Round Dutch' (71 days). Heads are round and firm; slow to split or bolt; mature at different intervals for extended harvest; grow to average weight of 41/2 to 5 pounds.
  • 'Late Flat Dutch' (90 to 100 days). Large, flat heads; good winter keepers; average weight 10 to 15 pounds. Great for kraut.
  • 'Red Acre' (70 days). Early, sweet, uniformly ruby red colored, nonsplitting variety that averages 3 to 4 pounds.
  • 'Early Jersey Wakefield' (60 to 75 days). Conical-shaped, two- to four-pound heads resist splitting and can be overwintered. Yellows resistant.
  • 'Savoy Ace' (80 to 90 days). Vigorous, crinkly-leaved hybrid with dark green, semiround heads; heat resistant for summer growth; average weight of 4 to 5 pounds.

Cauliflower - "Cabbage with a College Education"

Many people are afraid to try growing cauliflower because they think it's finicky, or that it's a crop only experienced gardeners can have success with. Cauliflower, however, grows exactly like cabbage. To make the heads white or blanch them, you simply cover them with their own leaves for four or five days. Alternately, you can grow self-blanching varieties.

Cauliflower can be used in any recipe that calls for broccoli, or served raw with dips or in salads. Kids will often eat vegetables raw that they refuse to eat cooked. That's fine, because raw veggies have more nutrients in them than cooked ones, and are easier for you to prepare.

Unlike broccoli, cauliflower produces only one head per plant. The head is called the "curd" and your only concern is to keep light away from it as soon as it's three to four inches across. After that, it's just harvest and enjoy. It freezes well, so be sure to plant enough.

  • 'Snow Crown' and 'Early Snowball' are both popular strains of early cauliflower, reaching maturity in 50 to 60 days. Both are white, self-blanching types and are heat tolerant, so will do well in the South.
  • 'Purple Head' is an unusual cauliflower variety that doesn't need blanching. The head matures in 80 to 85 days, and it really is purple. It turns green when you cook it and is an interesting variety for freezing or pickling.

Chinese Cabbage

Oriental vegetables are showing up in gardens and kitchens all over America. They're nutritious and easy to grow. Chinese cabbage is a close cousin to the rest of the cabbage family.

The leaves of this vegetable form a loose, oblong head that grows 18 to 20 inches tall. It's sometimes called -- celery cabbage -- because it also resembles the tall, ribbed stalks of celery.

The flavor of Chinese cabbage is much sweeter than standard cabbage, with a nice nut-like aftertaste. The leaves are crisp and tender and can be used in any combination salad or stir-fry dish.

  • 'Michihili' (72 days). Most common variety. Grows well in partial shade and will take a few autumn cold snaps. Can be harvested until November in the North, so in many parts of the country Chinese cabbage can easily become a fall, spring and even a winter delicacy.
  • 'Jade Pagoda' (72 days). A hybrid Michihili type that grows 16" tall and produces slow-bolting, creamy yellow hearts.

Kohlrabi "Flying Saucers from Seed"

This strange-looking vegetable is sometimes called a "stem turnip" because the stem just above the ground forms a fattened bulb that tastes like a sweetened turnip. The name is derived from the German words kohl (cabbage) and rabe (turnip).

Kohlrabi is started from seed in the garden for both early spring and fall crops. The plants are very hardy, and will thrive in just about any kind of soil. Just be sure to time your spring planting so it matures before the temperatures reach above 80oF, or the globes will be woody or unpleasantly pungent. Kohlrabi is the one garden vegetable that seems to be insect and disease free, making it a popular plant!

Peeled and sliced, kohlrabi makes an excellent addition to the summer crudite and dip tray. It's also deliccious lightly steamed, and lends itself well to stir-fries and soups.

The two most common kohlrabi varieties are 'Early White' 'Vienna' (it's really pale green in color) and 'Early Purple Vienna', whose skin is bright purple and looks jazzy in the garden. Both plants mature in 50 to 60 days.



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