Fall broccoli checklist: seedlings, worm poop, straw, tutu fabric

Susan Levi-Goerlich went down her checklist as she prepared to plant a fall crop of broccoli: 13 seedlings, box of worm poop, straw, and tutu fabric.

Susan, a Howard County Master Gardener, considers herself a “beginner” when it comes to vegetables. “I’ve grown tomatoes in containers on my deck for several years,” she explained, “but this is just my second year of gardening in the Westside Community Garden,” one of three such gardens of the Columbia Gardeners, Inc. “I love gardening here. After I’m finished working in my plot, I go sightseeing and check out what other gardeners are doing. I get to see what works and what doesn’t work, and people very generously share advice and suggestions.”

Susan started her broccoli seedlings under fluorescent shop lights in her home utility room. “I love starting plants from seeds. I used Burpee’s Green Goliath seeds. For pots, I used the plastic pint containers that blueberries come in. They have built-in drainage holes and give the plants plenty of room for their roots to develop. I started the seedlings about two months ago and then hardened them off outside for about a week. Some of the leaves got a little sunburned, but overall they look pretty good.”

Green Goliath matures about 55 days from transplanting, so Susan expects to begin harvesting broccoli in early October. “I grew broccoli last fall, and it did so much better than the broccoli I planted this spring. I’ve heard that my experience is pretty typical of this area—broccoli prefers cooler fall temperatures.”

Susan, who presents a popular Master Gardener educational program on vermicomposting, fertilizes her garden with worm castings, known to giggling youngsters everywhere as “worm poop,” from red wiggler worms that compost the vegetable scraps from the family’s kitchen. When she dug holes for the broccoli seedlings, she trowled a heap of castings into each. “Broccoli is a heavy feeder. It seems to do well with the castings. I don’t supplement it with commercial fertilizer,” she said. Tiny red wigglers squirmed as she added the supplement to the planting bed.

After she firmed the soil around the transplants, Susan mulched with straw. “That will help minimize weeds and keep the soil shaded and cool around the young plants,” she said.

And then she adds the crowning touch to her broccoli planting—tutu fabric, more formally known as tulle—to protect the plants from cabbage butterflies and moths and harlequin bugs.

“I buy the tulle at Jo-Ann Fabrics, and I choose the netting with the finest mesh. It’s made of nylon and is 54” wide. For a 4’-wide bed I seam two pieces together. I use it like a floating row cover, but because it’s black, it blends into my garden better. I anchor the edges with stones and with PVC pipe along the long sides of the bed. I wrap the extra fabric around the pipes and then unwrap it as the plants need more growing room. In addition to protecting the plants from insects, I think the fabric gives them a little shade from the hot summer sun.”

Susan says the tutu fabric works for her. “I like watching the cabbage butterflies try to figure out a way to lay their eggs on the underside of the broccoli leaves. They give up and go look for an easier target. The netting keeps out the harlequin bugs too.”

When she’s not gardening, Susan is a fabric artist. “Much of my work is inspired by garden imagery. Up to now it’s mostly been flower gardens. But I’m working on a piece now based on a friend’s garden, and it includes corn too,” she said. To see examples of Susan’s fabric art, CLICK HERE.

4 Comments on “Fall broccoli checklist: seedlings, worm poop, straw, tutu fabric

  1. Tulle… what a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I like the idea of using tulle. I use little scraps of bird netting for many things – like laying over my melons and winter squash so the raccoons don't get them. I don't like how the netting snags on everything and I wonder of the tulle would work better. Anyway, great broccoli tips – especially as we approach fall planting!

  3. Wendy, I have not had a problem with the tulle snagging. As I told Bob, I use the really fine mesh, and once it's in place I don't really move it—except to unroll it from the PVC pipe to allow more room for my growing plants.
    The tulle is certainly worth a try; however I'm not sure how well it will hold up to raiding raccoons. It's not as strong as bird netting.

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