With all the rain and cool weather we had earlier, it seems like summer is just getting started.
But if you like to start your own seeds indoors, there is always something on the schedule. It feels like I just got the last of my spring plants hardened off and set out and here it is time to start the cole crop seeds (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for the fall crop.
Yes, you read that right. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get a good, quality transplant and the time to put out the fall cabbage etc. is the latter part of July, so now is the time to find the seeds you want to start indoors.
Central Missouri's growing season is well-suited to planting cool-season crops mid to late summer for a fall harvest. Cole crop seeds do not always germinate well in Missouri's hot summer soil and plants for transplanting are a little harder to find in the fall, so I usually start my own plants inside. From now until the end of June is the time to start them.
You might want to start them in shifts. Start a couple of cabbage, broccoli, etc. then wait a week and start a start some more. Doing this will stretch out your fall harvest. Or, you can start varieties that mature at different times. A good, quality transplant is critical to a successful crop. Older plants or those that have already formed small heads do not yield as well as younger plants. If you are not familiar with starting your own seeds, "G6570, Starting Plants Indoors From Seeds" from the University of Missouri Extension is an excellent guide.
I, and a few others I talked to, had a little trouble getting the spring cole crops going this year so now we get a second chance. Many people, including myself, prefer the taste of the fall cole crops over those grown in the spring. The Brassica family can handle quite a bit of frost and even snow. Some, Brussel sprouts for instance, actually taste better after a frost.
Cole crops do well when they can mature as the nights and days start cooling off instead of steadily getting hotter, which happens to the spring planting. Broccoli, especially, lasts quite a bit longer before bolting into a head of yellow flowers.
Another thing that affects some crops is day length. While Chinese cabbage will grow seed stalks and broccoli and cauliflower tend to bolt during spring's lengthening days, these vegetables stay succulent and savory during fall's shortening days. Broccoli and cauliflower buds stay tight, patiently awaiting harvest. Although attention must be given to insects and bacteria at the start, as the weather cools the amount of pests and disease diminish also.
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 this spring or the previous year by another cole family member. Two or three-year rotations are even better. Most of the pests, including a lot of the weeds, are killed by the first frost, leaving you to enjoy fresh vegetables relatively trouble free. Some years I was still picking broccoli in late November.
This is also a good time to plant some of those varieties that have longer maturities. Cabbages and broccoli that have 90-110 day maturity times usually end up maturing in the heat of late spring or early summer which can effect their taste. Broccoli can become tough and stringy with heat. Many of these longer-maturity varieties are good "keepers" also, which means they will last longer in storage.
One other thing to keep in mind: To get another growing season out of the garden, fertilizer and liberal amounts of compost or other organic matter should be applied to the soil. Fall's predominantly leafy vegetables are heavy feeders. If you have grown another crop in the same area, the nutrients might be depleted. It's time to take a look at the garden and make a place for the "second chance crops." Every year, I think I am going to space the seed starting out over several weeks to see if I can extend the harvest a little. This year, I am going to try a little harder at it.
Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the University of Missouri Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]