Plant Cole Crops Now!

Posted On September 14, 2012— Written By
broccoli plants

Space cole crop transplants 1′ to 2′ apart.

September is prime time to set out transplants of cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, and cauliflower, a group of crops collectively known as the cole crops. If you have tried these crops in the spring and failed, be sure try again this fall. Cole crops thrive in the consistently cool temperatures of autumn and do not bolt (go to flower) as they often do in spring.

Young plants are currently available from most local garden centers and nurseries. Make sure to keep newly set out plants well watered and apply an organic or slow release fertilizer at planting time. In addition, a dose of liquid fertilizer or compost tea at planting time will help new transplants establish quickly.

Your only real challenge for growing these crops in fall is to stay on top of the caterpillars! Several caterpillar species, collectively known as the ‘cabbage worm complex’ feed on cole crop leaves. These can easily be managed with organic insecticides containing B.t., spinosad, pyrethrins, neem, or diatomaceous earth. Find out more about controlling these pests from this Pender Gardener article: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2010/09/controlling-cole-crop-pests/

Here are a few tips on growing each of these super easy, super healthy vegetables:

Collards and Kale
These two leafy greens are among the hardiest of winter vegetables. Plants set out now will be ready to harvest by Thanksgiving. Plants will keep producing through the winter if you harvest a few of the lower leaves from each plant each time you pick. Or cut the whole stalk and harvest the entire plant in one picking.


Cabbage

There are many types of cabbage that can be grown in fall. The common round headed cabbage is the hardiest and will survive outside through a typical winter. Savoy and red leaf cabbages can also be set out now for fall and winter harvest. The cone shaped spring cabbage, also known as pointy headed cabbage, can also be grown in fall. ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ is a common variety. These varieties mature quickly and will be ready for harvest in just a few months.

For something different, try Chinese cabbage. It makes an upright head of crisp leaves, perfect for stir fries or slaw, but is less hardy than other cabbages and more susceptible to flea beetle damage. Plan to harvest before frost. Other Chinese vegetables that can be planted now for fall harvest include bok choy, tatsoi, and mizuna.


Broccoli

Fall broccoli is extremely delicious and productive! Plants set out now will produce a main head for harvest before Thanksgiving. After you cut the main head, leave the plants in place. They will produce lots of side shoots that can be harvested until cold weather shuts the plants down – this usually happens by January, though in a winter like last year’s, plants may keep producing until spring.


Cauliflower

Cauliflower is not the easiest crop to grow. Any stress will cause it to ‘button’, or produce very small heads. Cauliflower set out in spring usually fails miserably but fall planted crops have a much better chance of success.

If you are looking for a challenge this fall, try growing cauliflower. If your crop is successful, you should have beautiful snowy heads ready for harvest by Thanksgiving. Once the main head is cut, plants can be removed from the garden – they do not produce side shoots. Also, make sure to harvest before hard frost (28 degrees) since cauliflower is more cold sensitive than most cole crops.

Learn More!
Visit your local Cooperative Extension office to learn more about gardening and landscape care. Go to https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center/ to find your county Extension center or post your questions to be answered online via Extension’s ‘Ask an Expert’ widget.

Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to get expert advice from an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer:

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