KC Gardens

Easy-to-grow cole crops flourish in spring’s cool temperatures

Cole crops such as broccoli grow well in the Kansas City area during the cooler months.
Cole crops such as broccoli grow well in the Kansas City area during the cooler months.

Growing vegetables is the perfect way to help you eat fresh. Many crops can be grown here in KC, but maybe the best group of vegetables are the cole crops: broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

These crops, full of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, have many health benefits. And while they are available year-round in the produce section, there is nothing like the rewards of harvesting your own. Cole crops are easy to grow as long as you follow these practices.

Plant early using transplants

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are cool-loving plants. They need time to develop and mature under more springlike conditions; summer heat terminates the crop. Cole crops should be planted from mid- to late-March. Purchase short, stocky transplants. Like most vegetables, they will do best with at least half a day to a full day of sunlight.

Space individual plants about 18 inches apart. The plants can get big, which will result in larger heads harvested in late May through early June. As with any new transplant, be sure to water regularly to help establish the plant.

Feed as they grow

These plants must produce large, robust foliage in order to develop big heads. Before planting, spread a fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 30-0-0 at the rate of one-third pound over the same area. Lightly work into the soil. This application will help get the plants off to a quick start.

An additional application applied a few weeks later will give the developing plants a needed boost. If rainfall is scarce, continue to water regularly to keep the plants growing. Dry conditions will slow growth and reduce yields.

Harvest time

Proper watering and fertilization are all it takes for this easy-to-grow crop, though waiting for the heads to develop will take patience.

Broccoli will be the first to reach maturity. Harvest the broccoli florets as they develop and while still tight. Overly mature heads will start to open and reveal the yellow flowers. This plant will produce one nice-size head. After that, side shoots will develop that are smaller and just as flavorful.

Cauliflower takes a few more weeks. A creamy white head will form in the center of the plant. Once this appears, take a rubber band and fasten several leaves together up over the head to create a shade tent. Sunlight will cause the head to turn tan and less appetizing. Cut the cauliflower head while it is still tight. This plant is a one-and-done. Remove it after harvest.

Cabbage is ready to be harvested when the head is firm. Like cauliflower, cut the fresh head. Cabbage is also a one-and-done crop.

Whether you have a dedicated vegetable garden plot or just a few open spaces in a landscape bed, cole crops are fun to grow and delicious to eat.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org or visit KCGardens.KansasCity.com.