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Fusion_power January 30, 2015 04:42 AM

Hand of the gardener, growing cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower
It is said that nothing fertilizes a garden more than the footsteps of the gardener.

Lots of gardeners start seed about this time to have cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower plants for spring planting. I've started several thousand seed over the years and have found a few methods that are significantly better than others.

If you start brassicas in seed trays, most of the time, the seed will be planted 3/8 of an inch or so deep in the soil. The plant will get about 3 inches tall and have 3 or 4 leaves within a few weeks, then the weak stem will let the top of the plant fall over against the soil. This does not really harm the seedling, but it does suppress growth a bit and it makes messy plants to set out. I tried several methods of strengthening the stems with little success. You can put a fan on the plants which will do wonders for strengthening the stems, but it also dries them out very fast which can cause problems at temperatures above 70 degrees. I tried various methods of half-filling the seed tray with mix and then filling the tray up after the plant was a few inches tall. This works, but causes problems because seed start mix has to be added over the top where it tends to accumulate on the leaves. The amount of work involved simply can't be justified for anything more than a few dozen seedlings.

Then a few years ago, I tried something that I thought might help and found a new method of growing brassicas that produces strong stems and very healthy plants. I start with a standard 11" X 22" nursery tray with a 1204 cell pack (48 cells). Fill the tray with very moist seed start mix such as Promix BX. Use a rounded off stick to poke holes 3/4 inch diameter down all the way to the bottom of each cell. Drop in a single seed and if the seed is viable it will germinate within 3 days. The plantlet starts by growing roots into the small amount of soil at the bottom of the cell tray, the top gradually grows upward until it is above the top of the soil mix in the tray. When the growing tip is above the soil, I pinch the soil together on the stem of each plant. This can be done very quickly. The soil then provides extra support just below the expanding leaves. As the plant grows, roots will form all along the covered part of the stem which significantly improves the root system. I put a fan on the plants at that point to keep the stems sturdy until the plants are ready to go in the ground.

Give this tip a try, you will love the results!

PhilaGardener January 30, 2015 06:50 AM

Thanks for sharing that strategy!

shelleybean January 30, 2015 06:59 AM

I wish I'd read this before I had my sown cabbage seed. I will have to go with the fan method. Thanks for posting this.

JJJessee January 30, 2015 07:45 AM

Thanks, and good timing. I'm sowing a few brassicas early next week. I'll give it a try.

jmsieglaff January 30, 2015 08:51 AM

Thanks for sharing, I always have the results with my broccoli seedlings you describe. They end up OK, but it seems to take them a while in the garden to get going. Do you bottom water, top water or do not need to water prior to the plant growing up enough that you pinch the soil? Any thoughts about brushing the plants with your hand a couple times a day vs. a fan with respect to the stem strength?

Fusion_power January 30, 2015 10:54 AM

Brassicas are stunted by lack of water so don't let them dry out. I usually have to water 2 or 3 times between seed planting and pinching the soil around the stems. Be sure to start out with the soil very moist, but not dripping. The hole the seed are in will maintain the right level of moisture to trigger germination. Once the seed coat pops off, there has to be enough moisture to stimulate the fine root hairs to grow.

Cabbage definitely respond to touching, but my experience is that they need reasonably constant stimulation from a fan blowing across the leaves.

greyghost January 30, 2015 02:13 PM

Thank you! It sounds like a great idea-I can't wait to try it.


gregory January 30, 2015 08:30 PM

thanks for the tip. I have never tried tried planting brassicas. I live in lower Alabama
and I had success with my broccoli but not so much with cauliflower, and it looks like
by the time the brussel sprouts get enough height it will be to late tempature wise.

fusion power what variety of broccoli do you prefer to plant?

natural January 30, 2015 08:43 PM

On an organic farm that I worked on we would start the seeds in the soil in specially prepared seedbeds. We would use rowcovers until they got established. Then we would dig them up at transplant time.

I've continued to do this many times. However, whenever I tried to start the plants in seed trays and potting mix I experienced the same issues that you have. I think I'll try your suggestion above and see if I have better success.


greenthumbomaha January 30, 2015 09:33 PM

Many thanks for posting that technique!!! I'm just gearing up and have 5 of the brokali started, and they're all stringy and flopped over as you described. Cauliflower and cabbage going in this weekend with the new technique. You really made my evening after a long day. Very kind of you to share!

- Lisa

Fusion_power January 31, 2015 12:03 AM

There are varieties of broccoli selected for spring planting and others for fall. The only productive varieties here in the southeast are heat tolerant to some degree. I've grown Sun King and Bonanza from Burpee very successfully. You can purchase Sun King at Home Depot from Burpee seed racks.

gregory January 31, 2015 08:23 AM

I am guessing you probably live north of me. Pretty much from what I can tell its planted here only in the fall. Now the packman that I grew this past year were in containers. Next time I will grow them in the garden. The heads were very small. Maybe 5 inches at best. Big problem with bugs each time we had a warm spell even in December had to dust with BT to control it. I am not sure if the size of the broccoli was due to the container even though it was a large one that I had success growing my sungolds in this past summer.

habitat_gardener February 3, 2015 02:14 PM

I'll have to try this!

Your technique for starting brassicas reminds me of Barbara Damrosch's technique for transplanting leeks: she makes a deep narrow hole with a stick or whatever, drops the transplant in, and lets the soil fill in naturally over the next week or so. The leeks are then self-blanching and you don't have to go back and hill up the soil later.

I wonder what other vegetables this strategy works for?

jmsieglaff March 1, 2015 03:50 PM

1 Attachment(s)
Going to give this deeper planting method a try. Basically by starting the seed in a hole you're taking advantage of it reaching for light and then the fact it will root along the stem, right?

My planting holes, does that look about right?

Fusion_power March 2, 2015 10:12 AM

not quite. The holes have to be big enough for the cotyledons to push up and out of the hole. Push your finger down into each hole and round it out a bit to ensure there is room. The hole should be about 3/4 inch diameter and should not have any bits of seed mix that could block the cotyledons.

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