February 1st, 2009
Brassica oleracea ‘Premium Crop’

photo: broccoli flowers

The sun came out and temperatures shot back up to the 70s. The bees were all abuzz. This was not a cause for joy, however, because the bees were buzzing over broccoli flowers. The broccoli began bolting last week leaving this central Texas gardener wondering if she should even attempt to grow cool-weather vegetables when almost 1/3 of January registered temperatures in the 70s or 80s. (I tried growing summer squash, too, to hedge my bets but we had just enough days below freezing to kill them.)

photo: broccoli flowers

According to Garrett and Beck in Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening, premature flowering is caused by high temperatures. They advise, “Plant so that maturity will occur during cool weather.”

Can someone explain to me when that is exactly? I planted four broccoli plants on October 3 and they began heading on January 2. We cut one head to eat on January 11. Before we could enjoy the rest of them (I only planted four plants!), they were already beginning to bolt. I’m not the only Austin gardener with this problem. Vertie posted photos of her broccoli flowering the same day mine did, January 26.

I’ve cut off the flowering heads. Some side shoots are forming. A cool front is coming in tonight. Maybe I’ll get enough broccoli for a lunchtime serving before I pull them out. Each 4-inch potted plant was $1.25 at Gardens…which is about the same as a head of broccoli at Central Market. Broccoli is one of those plants that tastes best fresh from the garden but broccoli are big plants in my little (48 square foot) vegetable garden. I need to make way for something more productive.

by M Sinclair Stevens

10 Responses to post “Brassica oleracea ‘Premium Crop’”

  1. From deb:

    The same thing happened here this year. The bees are enjoying themselves, but we didn’t get much broccoli.

  2. From nycgarden:

    Try planting them even earlier. The young broccoli plant can handle heat, its the end game where the heat comes into play as you already know. I grew Broccoli from starts (or was it seeds?) in extreme southern New Mexico to great results. By December/January freezing nights met warmish days. I put the broccoli under tents to deal with freezing and success. Of course, freakishly high temps will spoil anything out of season. If my days went out of the sixties I would of fried those brox.

    If broccoli can’t handle the heat in Austin’s January, I don’t think there’s any hope. We don’t have a colder month than January. By Valentine’s Day the redbuds will be blooming and spring will be here. Our first frost is generally the last week in November. Last frost, sometimes mid-March. This has been an unusually warm, dry January. But if you look at the records, almost any day in January has had a high of 80 degrees sometime in the last 100 years. — mss

  3. From Vertie:

    For many of the same reasons, I probably won’t be growing broccoli or cauliflower again. I didn’t last year and didn’t miss it. I had some plants this fall and decided to try again. I’ve discovered though that I don’t really like either enough–even when homegrown and just picked–to grow again.

    I feel bad for all the people in central Texas who decided in the last year to grow their own vegetables for the first time. It has not been easy. I usually tell people to start with a fall garden because it’s easier, but I’m not so sure this year.

    I’ve decided to narrow what I grow to what I absolutely love or what I want to experiment with, hence the leeks, potatoes, and garlic, in the latter category.

    How’s the garlic experiment going? I’m very interested in growing garlic because we use a lot of it. Because garlic is expensive, growing it has the potential to save us some money. I don’t think that’s true with most vegetables in central Texas. I rarely break even. I grow my own because of flavor and because I enjoy it, not to save money. So far, I’m doing well with arugula and chard. — mss

  4. From KAT:

    I have had huge success this year with a rapini from seed. (I’m not sure I could tell you which one.) This might work for you, although you’ve probably tried it and move far beyond it.

    We have also had a very warm winter so far here in LA.

    The arugula and chard are also doing very well. My tomatoes have failed two years in a row, but I’m hopeful I’ll get them in early enough this year.

    I did try rapini last year and it grew fine but I didn’t like the flavor much. Maybe I didn’t pick it early enough. I haven’t grown good tomatoes in about 10 years because my yard keeps getting shadier and shadier. But I’ll try again anyway. Hope springs eternal. — mss

  5. From Jenny Austin:

    I gave up on broc years ago. Just not worth the effort. This year the huge crop is the napa cabbage. Incredibly successful and quite versatile. Caesar coleslaw, stirfried with ginger and garlic and Renee’s great salad. That and chard and bok choi keeps us going. I am also growing garlic and shallots this year. So far so good.

    If two of Austin’s Master Gardeners can’t grow broccoli then I know it’s a lost cause. I’ll try something new next year. — mss

  6. From renee (renee's roots):

    mss, I too gave up on broc and cauliflower a few years back. I buy them from the farmers market when i get a craving. Meanwhile, I’ve been having good luck with kohlrabi, which to me tastes a tiny bit like broc and is much easier to grow. Maybe austin garden bloggers should team up and publish a guide to the tried and true vegetables that are worth the time and effort to grow.

    Sounds like a great blog topic…a summary of various experiences. So far I know three other Austinites who have no luck with broccoli and quite a few of us who fail at summer squash because of squash borers. If any other central Texans have hints or tricks for success with either of these veggies, please let us know. — mss

  7. From Dee/reddirtramblings:

    Hi MSS,

    I’ve always found broccoli to be fickle too. I never can figure out the best time to plant it with all of the crazy up and down weather. One year I thought this is the one, and then a bad cold front hit, and burned all of my broccoli, cabbage, etc. Another year, the bugs ate them, so I feel your pain.~~Dee

  8. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    What a challenge it is to garden in Austin! Not that I’ve ever tried to grow broccoli here, but that just doesn’t seem fair.

    Rumors of us southerners being able to garden the year around are greatly exaggerated. — mss

  9. From compostinmyshoe Charleston, SC:

    the flowers are delicious in a salad with a balsamic dressing! Pretty too.

  10. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    A Dr. O’Dell Molpus wrote an article for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden gardening book which gave some great info growing vegies in Northern Texas–he would start, from seed, all the cool season crops like broccoli and lettuce in flats around August 1st! Just let them grow in a shady spot until the weather cools (October-ish) and plant them out. It’s worked well for me, except for the fact that our summer garden has been growing well into December and I have no room to put the winter crop in! Right now we have beets, cilantro, arugula, napa, bok choi, collards, chard, endive, and lettuces growing quite well (mss–try the collards–they taste close to broccoli and tolerate the heat much better).
    Dr. Molpus also recommended putting in potatoes in February but we put them in around Xmas in polytunnels since last year they didn’t get enough cool weather to flourish. Despite the protection the tops have frozen back a couple times with 19 degree weather. Might work better in Austin. He also plants tomatoes in February, covered in tunnels…most years they make it and the earlier planting date gives you an edge on getting fruit before the summer inferno shuts them down.