Broccoli in December? How to Get Started with a Fall Garden

Broccoli in December?
Broccoli in December?

When the heat of Summer is at its highest, that is when I know it is time to think about planting cold weather crops for Fall and early Winter harvest. Many gardeners do not realize that from zones 5-8 one can grow two plantings of cold crops such as broccoli, cabbage, turnips, peas, beets, carrots and many types of greens. Today we will discuss cole crops.

It is very difficult for me to choose a favorite Vegetables to grow but if I had to choose my top three I would have to say broccoli. No, cabbage. Wait!….brussel sprouts. Well, I love all cole crops.

What does “cole” mean, you ask? Cole means stem. Cole crops are part of a large genus Brassica, of Old World temperate-zone herbs of the mustard family. The mustard family includes broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, turnips and rutabaga.

Cole crops are hardy and grow best in the spring and fall. My preference is Fall growing especially for broccoli and cabbage and my main reason for this is, that as the temperatures drop so do the insect populations. Thus, all natural pest control.

Successful growing of cole crops is related to how each crop grows and which plant part is eaten. For example, edible parts of broccoli and cauliflower are the flower heads which are quite sensitive to cold and nutritional deficiencies. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts produce leafy heads and can withstand greater fluctuations in weather and nutrition.

Choosing a Planting Site:

Cole crops will tolerate some shade but full sun is always preferable. If garden space is such that some vegetables will have to be partially shaded, save the full-sun area for warm season crops.

Ideal Soil Conditions:

A wide range of soils is suitable for cole crops, but fertile, well-drained loams are considered best, especially for early crops. Cole crops will grow better in heavier, cooler soils than warm season crops.

What to Feed Cole Crops:

A soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for the family of cole crops. But, they are heavy feeders and do best in a deep, fertile soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. A soil test will determine deficiencies of major plant nutrients and recommend ways to correct them. Because cole crops can easily become deficient in minor elements, at least part of the fertilizer material should be composted manure or composted vegetable matter to ensure a supply of these nutrients. Of the four crops, cauliflower is the most exacting in soil and fertility requirements.

Planting and Culture

Fall crops can be directly sown into the beds in early July through mid August depending on your zone. Be aware of the length of days to harvest for the particular variety you wish to grow. Many broccoli and cabbage heirloom varieties can range anywhere from 70-95 days, so plant accordingly. A calendar is a gardener’s best friend.

Cabbage plants

When direct-seeding, plant seed 1/4 inch deep. In raised beds such as what I grow in, I use a 4′ x 8′ box and grow 5 broccoli plants and 6 cabbage plants in there. When growing in a garden, cole crops should be planted 18-24″ apart in rows 24″ apart.


We recommend seaweed & fish emulsion food which come in liquid form which is mixed with water and applied as a foliar and soil fertilizer. Feed when planting seedlings and four weeks later.

Weed Control:

My favorite and most successful form of weed control is mulching with straw. This not only controls weeds well but also aids in moisture retention.

Pest Control:

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.

To help control cabbage worms and leaf eaters I dust with food-grade diatomaceous earth.


Cabbage–  Harvest when the head is very firm. Springy heads are not mature.

Broccoli– Harvest while the head is still compact and before the small flower buds open up to show yellow. Head diameter will range from 4 to 8 inches. After this center head is harvested side shoots (heads) of 2 to 3 inches will develop providing a second and even third picking

Brussels sprouts- Small, cabbage-like sprouts develop along the thick stem, maturing first at thebase of the plant. As the sprouts enlarge, remove the large leaves between the sprouts. Pinch out the growing tip of the plants in early September to hasten maturity. Harvest the sprouts when they are firm and before they open up. A light frost or two improves their flavor.

Mature cole crops are quite hardy and will withstand several frosts (or even snow) in the fall; therefore, “garden storage” is feasible well into October or November, even later for the hardiest varieties of kale and Brussels sprouts.

Late fall or winter cabbage can be stored for several months if kept in humid conditions as close to freezing as possible. Store only disease-free heads. Remove loose outer leaves and place in containers lined with perforated plastic bags. Pull out the cabbages and hang in a moist cellar, roots and all, or cut heads, remove loose outer leaves and spread one layer deep on shelves or pallets in a moist root cellar.

Favorite Varieties:

Our favorite Broccoli variety is Waltham 29. Cabbage varieties that we like are Earlianna, Fast Vantage and Stonehead.

Brussel Sprouts are a great veggie to grow and our one and only favorite is Royal Marvel. This variety takes 85 days to maturity and has sweet, uniform sprouts.

These are just a few recommendations from our farm. There are many varieties and it is always fun to try a new one that you have not grown before.

I always say, be adventurous in the garden, have fun and get really dirty! The garden season does not have to end September 1st. When you grow cold weather crops you can still have a bountiful harvest in December. Enjoy! Courtesy prairiehomestead

Susan Berry is the owner of Itzy Bitzy Farm in Southeastern Massachusetts. She has a degree in horticulture and after farming on 5 acres in North Carolina with her husband for 9 years they returned to Susan’s home state of Massachusetts and now specialize in small scale homesteading on less than 1/4 acre. Susan enjoys teaching suburban families how to grow their own food and live a homestead lifestyle in a small space. Susan also cans much of the food she grows and has a flock of 12 hens. Her specialty is propagating and selling asparagus crowns to home gardeners. You can follow her blog at
Broccoli, Agriculture, Vegetables, Nutrition,

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