Broccoli in October

A good part of the first day of October was spent outside, taking in the warmth of a fall day in the 70s, perusing what was left of the garden. Admittedly, I felt fortunate to have much of anything; I had started seeds late and without really proper light, and had transplanted late. The broccoli and cauliflower plants were quite late by most standards, not in the ground until mid to late May, and past the time of cool nights with possibilities of light frost, when they seem to thrive the most.

But as with most things I’ve grown and planted, I threw them in the ground and hoped for the best, not wanting to waste plants or efforts. This year, I tried raised bed gardening, with the help of a friend that built a really nice raised bed for me. I live at the edge of a wooded area in the lower Wisconsin River valley, and the terrain defies wrangling it into anything close to a traditional garden. I’m generally undeterred by conditions; I have gardened nearly everywhere I’ve lived for years, and adapted to the conditions, both nature- and human-imposed, in order to grow things. In rental houses where there was no yard available or approved for gardening, I grew in pots, five-gallon pails, and one year I grew herbs in a (non-chemically-treated) wooden pallet propped against the house, filled with soil and with landscape fabric stapled to the back.

I first moved to my house nestled in a Wisconsin River bluff just a little over three years ago. As with most things, it was a compromise. It keeps me close to water, and I have the relative security in knowing that the chance to be on the Wisconsin or the Mississippi rivers, and the mental wellbeing and comfort of soul that they provide when I am in my kayak, is only a few minutes away.

Gardening, however, is a different story. For the first couple of years, I attempted a few things in the rocky soil that makes up what I can only loosely call a yard, since there is no grass and no mowing. There is also constant encroachment of wild black raspberry canes, lovely in late June and early July for their plentiful and delicious berries, but difficult to deal with when trying to grow garden plants. Then there are raccoons. Lots of raccoons, who love nothing more than to persistently, though neatly, pull freshly planted transplants and lay them down next to the hole where they were planted. I read somewhere that they are looking for grubs. I think they’re just being pesky, like when they scamper around my deck at night and deposit large piles of scat behind for me to clean up.

I also tried straw bale gardening last year, with some limited success, again due to raccoons. The plants didn’t get a chance to get good root development when I had to keep replanting them. Then there are rabbits, which like to eat them.

Gardening in the woods. This raised bed seemed to be the answer for my hilly acreage on the edge of the woods.

This year, though, the raised bed would solve at least the soil and rabbit problems, I thought. As I said, the seedlings were late in getting their start due to my timing issues, but once they were in the raised bed soil I figured they would take off. I only had a couple plants pulled up by raccoons, and then they left them alone. I had filled the bed with bags of soil alternated with bags of composted cow manure, all which I had purchased from a local garden center. I watched the plants for a couple of weeks, and even though everything had been hardened off appropriately, they just didn’t grow. I began to think that the cow manure must have come from some starving cows because I was getting some discolored leaves in addition to plants that were failing to thrive. I looked up the symptoms online, and a few sources said to treat with an epsom salt solution, which I did. The leaf coloration resolved, but there was still not much growth.

“Oh, well,” I thought. “The hot weather will come, the broccoli and cauliflower will bolt and that will be the end of it. I’ll try again next year.” Except that never happened.

I watched all summer as the plants grew slowly, produced nothing and didn’t bolt in the hot weather. Around mid September, I saw the beginnings of broccoli heads forming, and by the end of September I had cut off some fairly nice ones. Not big, I’ll admit, but well-formed and delicious, with no bitter taste, and then they continued to form their typical smaller side shoots that I plucked off and added to my lunch salads to take to work. On October 1st, I picked off what looked to be the last of the larger side shoots, and a week later, I inspected the cauliflower plants, which had finally started to form small heads. There had been a couple of light frosts by then, nothing heavy to kill everything off, and as I cleared off the frost-bitten and wilted tomato and pepper plants, and picked the last of the squash, I decided to leave the cauliflower and broccoli for a while, just to see what it will do before the weather really does get too cold for it.


Broccoli in October, cauliflower in November? We’ll see….




As many gardeners know, it is always a test of will and stamina, and lengths of creativity and persistence to go up against the elements, the critters and our own resolve to get results from our gardens. Since I’ve lived here, it’s also been a further shaping of my acceptance of the surroundings and that the timing of events doesn’t always follow my plan. It’s the knowledge that I may have planted here – both myself and my seedlings – but that nature follows its own path and it’s best sometimes to step back and observe, and wait to see what it will do. This year it was broccoli in October.

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