, Port Arthur, Texas


October 7, 2013

Planting broccoli and cauliflower

If you are not preparing to plant a fall garden, be sure to do a few things before walking away from it 'till next spring.  At a minimum you should be cleaning the dead plants from the garden and covering the area with a couple inches of mulch or some of the leaves that soon will be falling.

For those planting a garden, cauliflower and broccoli always are good bets.  They are simple to grow and very healthy vegetables, touting both anti-oxidant and anti-cancer agents.

Mark Twain once said that "A cauliflower is just a cabbage with a college education."

Cauliflower was indeed cultivated from a cabbage somewhere in Asia Minor.  At the time, cauliflower was still green and closer related to broccoli. Many credit the Italians with the white version we have today.  This variety had leaves that curled up around the head, keeping it out of the sun and blanching it white.  In the sixteenth century, it was held in high honor in the French gardens of the aristocrats and Thomas Jefferson planted it at Monticello. But it was not until the 1920’s when Italian immigrants planted it in California that it really took off in America.

The head of the cauliflower that we eat is actually the undeveloped flower buds. If you let a cauliflower fully mature, these flower buds eventually will develop small flowers and go to seed.

This unique vegetable is a heavy feeder, so compost is a must.  It grows best with regular watering since sporadic watering and drying out will cause the stem to be woody and hinder the leaves from curling around the head.  If you do have problems with the leaves, use a clothespin to fasten the leaves around the head to keep out sunlight. Fertilize cauliflower when the first new leaves appear and at the first sign the head is forming.  Harvest can happen at any time during head formation without loss in flavor.

Broccoli also was cultivated from a cabbage,  originating in the Mediterranean by the ancient Etruscans around 6 BC. The head or florets also are the flower buds of the plant. Broccoli is rich in calcium and many anti-oxidants. That sulfur smell of overcooked broccoli and cauliflower are the sulfur compounds that provide antiviral and antibiotic properties and keep the nutrients inside even after boiling.

Growing broccoli in the fall usually is best. It will mature during cooler days and is sweeter than grown during warmer temperatures, which can cause bolting or small head formation.  Broccoli is a heavy feeder; provide a good amount of compost mixed in when planting and water regularly.  Broccoli is different from cauliflower in that it produces heads on branches more spaced out.  After the first harvest, leave the plant in the ground and  harvest smaller florets from the same branches over the next few weeks.

Reach Jefferson County Master Gardener Tim Schreck at or call Texas AgriLife Extension at 409-835-8461.

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