Growing cole crops in the Minnesota home garden

by Donna Tatting

Chisago County Master Gardener

When it comes to vegetable gardening, these days I pretty much stick with the usual choices like green peppers, tomatoes, beans, carrots and some herbs.  But last year, as I visited some local farmers’ markets, I started noticing more and more varieties of kale.  Then someone told me about making “kale chips,” and suddenly I decided I had to start growing kale in my vegetable garden.

Kale is a cole crop.  Cole crops, also known as crucifers, include broccoli, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. All are members of the mustard family, and grow best in cool weather. Broccoli, broccoli raab, and cauliflower produce edible flowering stalks. Brussels sprouts and cabbage produce tight heads of leaves, and kohlrabi forms an edible enlarged stem. Collards and kale produce loose leaves, like chard, lettuce and spinach.

Cole crops are generally transplanted for a summer crop. Start seeds indoors in early April or 4 to 6 weeks before transplanting. For fall crops, start seeds in June for Brussels sprouts or storage cabbages, and July for broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, or Chinese cabbage. Kohlrabi can also be direct seeded at 1 inch apart and ¼ to ½ inches deep. Thin emerged seedlings to create 4 inches of space between plants.

Harvest broccoli, broccoli raab, and cauliflower before flower buds open and when heads reach a useable size. Harvest heads by cutting. Broccoli can produce usable heads for several weeks, either as one central head or as side shoots after the central head has been removed.

For white cauliflower, gather outer leaves over heads when the heads become visible, and tie leaves loosely with string or rubber bands. This will keep the heads, or curds, white-colored (blanched) as they develop in a shaded environment. It is not necessary to tie leaves of colored (orange, green, or purple) or romanesco-type cauliflower.

Brussels sprouts produce many small heads. Once the lowest heads or sprouts reach the size of a quarter, pinch out the plant’s growing point to promote uniform sizing of all sprouts on the stalk. After freezing weather occurs (late October), remove the leaves, cut the plants off at the soil surface and stack them upright in a cool cellar. The sprouts still on the plant can be picked during the winter.

Harvest cabbage when the heads reach a useable size. To harvest, cut the head off above the outer leaves. Heads can split if they are left on the plant too long. You can minimize splitting by twisting the head a quarter turn or shearing one side of the roots with a spade to reduce water flow into the head when close to harvest.

For kale, harvest single leaves as soon as they reach a usable size.  Kale typically takes 50-60 days to mature from seed to harvest and the seeds can be planted directly in the ground 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost.  And those Kale chips I mentioned, visit the following website for a tasty recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/baked-kale-chips/

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