Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Harvesting Broccoli and Tomato Troubles

Harvesting Broccoli

Near the end of last summer, I planted some broccoli because I thought I might get in a harvest before cold weather set in. I didn't, but the broccoli thrived throughout the winter. In January, I started harvesting the broccoli.

Since I have never grown broccoli before, I wasn't quite sure when to harvest. I figured it was better to do it too early than too late, so I cut off the central heads when they were about 5 or 6 inches in diameter. I had read that if you let the broccoli continue to grow, it will put out lots of side shoots that will provide as much broccoli as the central head did.

This was definitely the case. A couple of weeks after I removed the central head, I had another harvest. So, I wondered if I could just keep doing this. I harvested a 3rd time on several of my plants, but when the heads were cooked the flavor was not quite right. Further, the heads are no longer compact as they were; the individual flowers are beginning to separate. So I have learned two things from my broccoli experiment. Put in a big crop in the fall, and get ready to harvest in mid-winter. Second, after two harvests, cut them down.

I have a number of small plants in the ground right now, and I am racing against time to see if I can get a harvest in before it gets too hot.

Tomato Troubles

No matter what, I always try to plant tomatoes. It seems like no matter how little preparation I do, I always get a big harvest. But I have always bought plants for transplanting. This year I decided to plant seeds and make my own transplants.

I bought a package of Big Boy seeds, and planted in a bunch of small containers back in January (in my garage). None of them sprouted. I replanted 6 containers in mid-February, and only 3 of them sprouted. A week ago, despite their small size, I decided to go ahead and put them in the garden.

The first one died on Day 2. The second and third seemed to be doing OK, but then we got 3 days of cold rain. Today, the second plant is dead, and the third is looking pretty poor. Looks like I will have to buy transplants again this year. (I also had one of my zucchinis die for no apparent reason).

The lesson learned is to plant in somewhat larger pots, inside, in about mid-January. Transplant them outside in mid-March when they are sturdy. Weak tomato plants don't last very long in the garden.


  1. This may seem like a weird question, but is the reason you've linked to the Collin County master gardener site because that is the county you live in? If so, a search of their site (typing spring planting into the search box) brings up a resource (number 4 when I tried it) that shows recommended planting dates for vegetables.

    For squash and tomatoes, the earliest planting date is March 25th. It is possible that your little plants were set out a couple of weeks too early. For heat-loving plants like tomatoes and squash, this seems a likely contributor to their demise. I live in NW Georgia now, but I lived in Port Aransas (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away...) for four years, so I am little bit familiar with the climate in SE Tx.

    Hope your garden produces abundantly.


  2. This may seem like a weird question, but is the reason you've linked to the Collin County master gardener site because that is the county you live in?

    Yes. And in fact I know that I put the plants out too early, but those dates are based on expected date of the last freeze. I am traveling back and forth to Europe (and I am here right now) so I had to set them out earlier than I wanted because I was going to be away on the earliest planting date. I have had my wife cover them when the weather got too cold.

    Squash are doing pretty well, but I am down to 1 tomato. I need to plant more next year, indoors, and in large enough pots so they are very sturdy when I put them outside.

    Cheers, RR

  3. I understand about the being out of town problem. When I am gone, my husband has enough to do (job, kids, pets) that I can't really expect him to manage the garden, too, when that is usually my work.

    However, this year, he made a little cold frame for me out of PVC, that I have covered with plastic sheeting, and it has done a great job of protecting plants that I needed to plant outside when it was still a bit too cold. Maybe next year, if you are still traveling, you can try making and using something similar.

    Eliot Coleman's book Four Season Harvest talks a lot about ways to protect plants, and if you find time (hard, I know!) you might get a copy from the library to look at.

    I am really glad that you are writing about your garden and gardening experiences. I hope that other people in your area follow along, so they can learn from what you are doing. When I first started looking for garden blogs, most of what I found was for the west coast and for the northeast. Your writing here helps fill the gap!


  4. FYI, there are also varieties of broccoli that have been optimized for side shoots; Last summer and fall we grew Cino de Rappa side shooting broccoli, which did very well and generated multiple harvests.

    Others have been bred for producing lots of small tender leaves, for use as saute greens. We've had good luck with Getti di Napoli.

    And of course there's fractal broccoli (aka Romanesco broccoli). It's not as hardy and productive as the more common varieties, but it has a really nice nutty taste, and is visually unique.