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Ask a Master Gardener: Starting fall cole crops

by Peter Sutter | June 19, 2022 at 3:05 a.m.

For those of us who like to start our own seeds indoors, it seems like there is always something on the schedule. It feels like I just got the last of my spring plants hardened off and set out, and here it is time to start the cole crop seeds (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for the fall crop.

Central Missouri's growing season is well suited to plant cool season crops mid-to late-summer for a fall harvest. Cole crop seeds do not always germinate well in Missouri's hot summer soil, and plants for transplanting are a little harder to find in the fall, so I usually start my own plants inside. From now till the end of June is the time to start them.

A good, quality transplant is critical to a successful crop. Older plants or those that have already formed small heads do not yield as well as younger plants. If you are not familiar with starting your own seeds, "G6570, Starting Plants Indoors From Seeds" from the University of Missouri Extension is an excellent guide.

Although it has been a great year for the spring cole crops, many people, including myself, prefer the taste of the fall cole crops over those grown in the spring.

The Brassica family can handle quite a bit of frost and even snow. Some, Brussel sprouts for instance, actually taste better after a frost. Cole crops do well when they can mature as the nights and days start cooling off instead of steadily getting hotter, which happens to the spring planting. Broccoli especially lasts quite a bit longer before bolting into a head of yellow flowers.

An added bonus; plants can also be triggered into bolting by the lengthening of days in spring, so as the days shorten in the fall, plants like broccoli last longer before bolting.

Although attention must be given to insects and bacteria at the start, as the weather cools, the amount of pests and disease diminish also. The first line of defense against all insect pests and diseases of cole crops is crop rotation. Do not plant any cole crop in a spot occupied the previous year by another cole family member. Two or three-year rotations are even better.

Most of the pests, including a lot of the weeds, are killed by the first frost, leaving you to enjoy fresh vegetables relatively trouble free. Some years I was still picking broccoli in late November. This is also a good time to plant some of those varieties that have longer maturities. Cabbages and broccoli that have 90-110 day maturity times usually end up maturing in the heat of late spring or early summer which can effect their taste. These varieties are good "keepers" also, which means they will last longer in storage.

It's time to take a look at the garden and make a place for the "second shift." This year, I am going to space the seed starting out over several weeks to see if I can extend the harvest a little.

Peter Sutter is a life long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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