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Grow Cole Crops: Broccoli and Caulflower to suit every garden

by | Apr 2, 2020 | Food, GARDENING, Greenhouse | 0 comments

Time to Start Cole Crops!


My greenhouse is filled with tomato seedlings, artichoke, onions and cole crops of all kinds. What is a cole crop you ask? “Prior to cultivation and use as food, they were used mainly for medicinal purposes,” according to a research paper out of Atlantic Canada.

Red Spear broccoli is an unusual cole crop because it needs an extended cool season before it produces it’s lovely purple florets. This means it over-winters on the coast but for prairie gardeners they could start it now and plant it out as soon as the ground can be worked. If you get a cool spring and another June-uary it could bloom later this summer or into fall.


A Cole crop is any cruciferous crop ( the packets I’m growing pictured above and more) including Cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli.  These are often also called “Cold” crops because they are hardy and can be planted out mid-spring.  They easily handle freezing temperatures and snow. The only problem comes if they get too hot,  too big, or too dry before they are planted outside this spring. This is why I start my own from seed instead of buying the robust looking plants at garden centres.

Seed leaves on Cole crops all look the same when they first emerge. The top seedlings could be a Kale, Cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli. The bottom seed is probably arugula. Make sure to label everything you seed or you will be surprised this summer.


It seems like a mean trick but if seedlings of Cauliflower are too big they often fail. Cauliflower will “button” or form tiny heads too soon if they are too big when you plant them outside. They will also “button” if they are grown too warm  or if they dry out after they are transplanted outside.

Cauliflower produces tiny “button” heads when it is planted out too big or not watered evenly in the summer. Starting your own seed and planting it out early when it has about 4-6 leaves helps your chance of success. These were all in a row so clearly I was not watering well enough. Occasionally cauliflowers make tiny heads when they are crowded in the garden. They like 4 square feet to size up! (about 1.25 metres.)

I usually start cauliflowers just three or so weeks before planting them outside so they are not too big or sensitive when planted.

So start sorting through your seed, order seed from a local garden centre (many have seeds on hand so you don’t need to go through a seed supplier directly- phone first to make sure you can pick it up), or ask friends and neighbours if they have seeds left over from last year.

Cauliflower and broccoli start to form rosettes as they grow (see blue-green plant in top right position). By this size (with 8-10 leaves) the plants are well established in the garden because they have been growing outside since they had 4 true leaves.) Note the seedlings of speckled lettuce and parsley came in with my less-than-perfect compost along with the centrally positioned lambs-quarters – a weed. Just one big happy family.


Today, on April 3rd, I will start more kale and cauliflower from seed in my greenhouse or window shelf indoors. I already have broccoli on the go so will be transplanting some of that into bigger cell packs to let it grow on a bit before I plant it outside.

All broccoli is not created equally. Some form big central heads and others like Happy Rich Mini Broccoli (new in 2018) form short sturdy side sprouts. Sadly, this lovely broccoli was not available from my usual sources this year. Instead I am growing Centennial, another small-headed type. I also am trying Green Magic from WestCoast seeds for the first time.


Veronica cauliflower is sometimes called Broccoli. In fact it is often listed as Romanesco Italiano Broccoli.


Big-headed broccoli like Green Magic is ready mid-summer and looks more like the grocery store broccoli.


Even with all these pandemic hardships it is still spring, the same as always. The cole crops are still medicinal (eat your broccoli!) and the only difference this year is you have to be a little more canny and perhaps grow your own food from seed.

During World War II many of our grandparents grew “Victory Gardens” and in those days, 45% of the food we ate was grown in our home gardens. Today less than 1% of our food is grown at home. So let’s all up the ante and grow food this spring. Stay safe and let me know how I can help!

My sister Delima stands in my greenhouse with a big purple cauliflower (Graffiti) I grew in my greenhouse. Remember cauliflower takes a lot of room in the greenhouse or garden and if it is planted closer than 1 foot apart it will have smaller heads or button heads. Ideally, cauliflower likes 4 square feet per plant.

PS While cole crops include the whole cabbage family COLD crops include so much more. You can try spinach, leaf lettuce, green onions and radish early in the garden or cool greenhouse as COLD crops as soon as the ground thaws enough to seed. Radish take about 30 days from seeding to eating but they love continuous moisture so it is usually only a spring crop for me!

Radish as a pretty table centrepiece before we eat and serve them in early spring. I am not so good at growing radish in the heat of the summer.


 Donna Balzer is the Brand Ambassador for BCGreenhouse Builders and she has two greenhouses in her big backyard.

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