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Cool Season Veggies to Plant in Autumn for a Spring Harvest

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She and her husband, known as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

One of my baby cauliflower heads, just beginning to mature.

One of my baby cauliflower heads, just beginning to mature.

We Got a Late Start on Last Year's Winter Garden

Until I began choosing what to plant last December (2020), I hadn’t realized there are so many more vegetables to grow over the winter than I knew. Yes, we were late getting our garden spot ready for planting. That is thanks to Hurricane Sally that laid a huge pecan tree across our backyard, damaging our roof and demolishing flower beds.

Normally, I would start planting in autumn, but when that 100-year-old tree fell, the roots pulled up our irrigation system. I did, however, put four cabbage plants in one of the front yard flower beds. The green cabbage leaves were a nice background for the colorful snapdragons I had planted earlier. We had a lot of work to do before even thinking about planting a winter crop, but I digress. Back to the veggies.

What I Learned

Here I will share my experiences with the winter veggies I have grown. I know many of you are in areas where snow is already falling in September and October, and the ground is already as hard as an auditor’s heart, but around here in Zone 8b the soil is cold, but workable. So we can grow lots of winter veggies.

All of these plants will take up a lot of space in your garden. Each has large leaves that can have a “wingspan” of about 24 inches (60.96 cm). So you will need to allow them room to spread their “wings”.

All of these plants should be watered at ground level. Watering from above can cause the heads to rot. Also, when cutting for harvest, be sure to cut on a slant, so water will run off and not soak into the cut stem inviting fungus, disease, and pests.

If any of the plants have lower leaves that begin to turn yellow, and the yellowing seems to move upward in the plant, you may have a nitrogen deficiency. You can add a high-nitrogen fertilizer, but chose one with a low phosphorous content.

Though I didn't know it at the time, these beautiful baby cauliflowers were destined to become toxic.

Though I didn't know it at the time, these beautiful baby cauliflowers were destined to become toxic.

The First Time I Tried To Grow Cauliflower

I knew all vegetables need full sun, but there was something I did not know. The first time I tried to grow cauliflower, was before my days as a master gardener, and before I knew much about growing veggies. I had mostly grown flowers. I had no idea the beautiful creamy white heads must be protected from sunlight. This is important, as they will become toxic if they turn color like this.

There are purple cauliflowers, and they are fine to eat. I'm talking only about those white ones that turn color when they should remain a creamy white. When I saw mine beginning to change color, I researched the issue. I tried to prevent the change from growing worse, but it was too late. They were not safe to eat.

The next time I planted them was December 2019, not long before we knew COVID-19 had arrived here. As soon as the heads began forming, I used clothes pins to close the large leaves over the heads. Unfortunately, as the heads grew larger, the clothes pins couldn't hold the leaves in place.

Also, I had planted them too late. They should have been in the ground by October at the latest, but our garden spot wasn't ready then. I knew I was taking a chance planting them so late, but did it anyway. It was a waste of time, effort, and money. This fall, 2021, I will put them in the ground at the proper time. Wish me luck.

This cauliflower has turned pink from being exposed to sunlight. It will be toxic if eaten. Next time, I will know not to let the sun shine on the heads.

This cauliflower has turned pink from being exposed to sunlight. It will be toxic if eaten. Next time, I will know not to let the sun shine on the heads.

Trouble Was Brewing

When I saw mine beginning to change color, I researched the issue. I tried to prevent the change from growing worse, but it was too late. They were not safe to eat.

The next time I planted them was last December, when we were still staying home to avoid contracting COVID-19. As soon as the heads began forming, I used clothes pins to close the large leaves over the heads. Unfortunately, as the heads grew larger and larger, the clothes pins couldn't hold the leaves in place.

Also, I had planted them too late. They should have been in the ground by October at the latest, but as mentioned above, our garden spot wasn't ready then. I knew I was taking a chance planting them so late, but did it anyway. It was a waste of time, effort, and money. This fall, 2021, I will put them in the ground at the proper time. Wish me luck.

Here's how I tried to keep the sun off my cauliflower heads.

Here's how I tried to keep the sun off my cauliflower heads.

We Prepare Cauliflower a Few Different Ways

We enjoy cutting our cauliflower into small pieces, then steaming it in the microwave, and dressing it with sea salt, black pepper, and a tiny bit of butter. We use vegan butter, but whatever you prefer will work just fine. A couple of minutes in the microwave should do, depending on how much you are cooking. Steam it until a fork or knife slides into it easily, but not until it is soft and mushy.

Another way we like it is to cook it until it is soft and mushy, then mash it with a potato masher. We use the same seasonings as when steaming it.

Raw Cauliflower

We also enjoy eating it raw, dipped into light ranch dressing. Any ranch dressing works fine. We prefer the lower calorie light ranch.

This is the last rutabaga from our garden this spring (2021). It weighed in at a little over 4 pounds, and had even started growing it's own pup. It's the largest one I have ever seen.

This is the last rutabaga from our garden this spring (2021). It weighed in at a little over 4 pounds, and had even started growing it's own pup. It's the largest one I have ever seen.

Rutabaga

Rutabagas are root vegetables, and are so very easy to grow. I simply put the seedlings that I bought last winter (2020) into well-prepared soil, fertilized with organic fertilizer, and kept them watered. They pretty much took care of themselves. They, too, were planted a bit late, but it did not seem to be a problem.

One thing I will do differently this fall (2021) is to plant them deeper and earlier. As the roots grew, they began coming up out of the soil, so I kept mounding soil over them to keep the roots covered. Live and learn, right?

Here I am with that whopper. Wow! That thing was heavy.

Here I am with that whopper. Wow! That thing was heavy.

What's With the Little "Cemetery" In The Background?

Some of you must be wondering what that is in the background of the photo of me with my rutabaga. It looks like Bo is creating a little pet cemetery. Actually, those are the footings that are now supporting a garden shed that was being built for us at the time.

Baby Brussels sprouts growing in our little garden

Baby Brussels sprouts growing in our little garden

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts should be planted in early spring or late summer. They taste best when grown in cool weather, and even a slight frost heightens the flavor.

The first time I planted Brussels sprouts, I had no idea how much space they would take up in the garden. At that time, I had only a small kitchen garden with a few herbs and some onions. Impulsively, I decided to plant 6 seedlings of Brussels sprouts in one side of that tiny garden.

Each plant has large leaves that surround the stalk, and those leaves smothered some of my lettuce plants, but fortunately, I had planted several of each type of lettuce.

A basket of Brussels sprouts ready to cook

A basket of Brussels sprouts ready to cook

Halved sprouts browning on our stovetop.

Halved sprouts browning on our stovetop.

Brussels Sprouts Are Delicious

We usually drizzle a little EVOO, some salt or garlic powder, and our favorite pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar. Then steam them in the microwave.

When we want a nicer side dish, we put out a bit more effort by halving them, browning them in a shallow pan, as shown in the photo above, then adding seasonings, or separating them leaf by leaf, then cooking them with the pomegranate seeds and/or bacon bits. If you're trying to maintain a healthy diet, leave out the bacon bits.

Leaves of Brussels sprouts steamed with bacon bits and pom seeds

Leaves of Brussels sprouts steamed with bacon bits and pom seeds

A beautiful broccoli head ready to cook or to eat raw in broccoli salad

A beautiful broccoli head ready to cook or to eat raw in broccoli salad

Broccoli

I have tried my hand at growing broccoli only once, and it did not go well. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I only thought I knew, and tried to grow it in the summer. Big mistake.

Broccoli grows best in slightly acidic soil that is well-drained, but moist. The best-tasting broccoli is harvested in the mornings in cool weather.

Because spring temperatures are more sporadic, it’s trickier to grow it in spring. With higher temps, the florets will begin to bloom, causing the broccoli to have a bitter taste. Harvest broccoli by cutting the stem at least 6 inches below the head. You can continue to harvest additional heads from the same plant, as it will produce new heads after the first one is removed.

It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Be sure to wash it well, but if storing it in the fridge, be sure to dry it very well first.

How Do You Eat Your Broccoli?

Lots of people smother broccoli with melted cheese. We simply drizzle it with lemon juice, a little EVOO, and sometimes some pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar. it's absolutely delicious.

Often in restaurants, broccoli is over-cooked, causing it to be mushy. We used to steam it, but these days, we put it in the microwave for 2 minutes—no more. It turns a bright green color, and is tender, but not turned to mush.

Broccoli Salad

Fresh broccoli cut into small pieces and tossed with raisins, shredded carrots, and dressed with mayo makes a delicious veggie salad. We use mayo prepared with olive oil rather than the traditional mayo, but to each his own, right?

© 2021 MariaMontgomery

Your Comments Are Always Welcome

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on July 20, 2021:

There is an error in the summary. The article is about winter veggies, as shown in the title. I have fixed the error in the summary. My apologies. I do have a separate article about greens to plant for fall, winter, & spring.

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