On August 7th I planted seeds for several types of broccoli, cauliflower, beets, kale and chard. These are the staples (along with lettuce and onions) of my fall and winter garden. They were seeded in flats on my back deck so I could keep an eye on them. I covered them with a plastic lid to keep a constant moisture level. Once the first leaves emerged I removed the cover. You can see from the picture below that the seeding flats are recycled plastic containers from the grocery store. I punched holes in the bottom, then set them in a shallow pan with water or on part of a commercial seed starting system. I’ve used the APS system for seed starting from Gardener’s Supply. It includes a tray as a water reservoir, a rack, a heavy duty fabric capillary mat, planting cells, and a greenhouse cover. I’ve found the included planting cells are too shallow for most vegetables (ok for lettuce). However the other parts of the system are very helpful in maintaining the consistent moisture required for seed germination. They are especially valuable if you will be away for a few days or get busy and forget your seeds. Your baby seedlings are kept safe from pests and disease when they are the most vulnerable.
Once the young plants had a set of true leaves (the first leaves to emerge are called cotyledons and are not representative of the leaves you will see later), they were ready for the garden. I transplanted them into the garden at the end of September. They will do fine over the winter even with a light frost.
The broccoli and cauliflower went into one of my raised beds. Because there were previously tomatoes in that location, I added quite a bit of compost and organic fertilizer. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and deplete the soil of nutrients. Onions are good companion plants for the cabbage family. There are chives at one end of the bed and I planted some scallions between the young plants. Thyme and lemon verbena are at the other end of the bed, the aromatic herbs are reported to deter cabbage worms which have been a problem in the past. I tossed in a handful of yellow nasturtium seeds, they are a decoy for black aphids. I’ve noticed that black aphids like chives as well, maybe they will leave my broccoli and cauliflower alone this year!
You can see the last of my tomato plants in the raised bed behind, I can’t bear to pull them out yet as there are still some green ones on the vines. Their time is limited though as that bed is scheduled to be planted with peas.
I need to protect my plants from deer that love to lunch in my garden (not to mention the birds and squirrels and the monster cat), I covered the young plants with some wire screening left over from another project.
It’s not too late for you to plant cauliflower and broccoli (or chard and kale) in Northern California; but you will need to buy the small plants at your local nursery as 6-packs. Avoid the ones with roots coming out of the bottom. And don’t bother with Brussels sprouts, see my note below. There will be more on chard, kale and beets in my next post.
A note on Brussels sprouts: you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned them yet, although they are one of my favorites. Brussels sprouts need five months from the time they are seeded to the time they are ready to harvest around December 1st. That means seeding no later than May 15th and planting in the garden by July 1st. In May they are not anywhere on my radar. And in July, I am enjoying the glory of the first tomatoes. My first thoughts of Brussels sprouts occur in October with Thanksgiving on the horizon. What to do? I buy those beautiful stalks at the farmer’s market. They are almost as good as home grown.