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by Beth Cook, Mammoth Cave Transplants:
In our last Home Grown Notions article, we mentioned it was time to start planting your cole crops. Many people have never even heard that term I’m sure. So, let us explain. Plants that are in the Brassicas or cruicifers family are called “cole crops”.
A lot are cool season and leafy green vegetables like mustards, broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, and even bok choy are in this family. Many of these vegetables require a long season to mature, which means we put them out in the chill of spring and wait for the chill of fall to sweeten them for harvest. But, most are harvested the same same season. It also means more time for things to go wrong in the garden, like cabbage worms and root rot. Here are some tips for successfully growing cole crops in your vegetable.
Have everything ready before you lift a single transplant. Plant cole crops in well-worked soil. Plant in loose soil that is full of organic matter and it area should be well drained. You will need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day and afternoon shade is okay. Next, get your rows marked off; water; fertilizer; two-inch-wide paper strips to use as cutworm collars; trowel or spade for making holes; and of course your plants! Water the seedlings thoroughly while they're still in the tub, pots or flats. This causes the soil around their roots to adhere to the roots, protecting them from exposure to air and light. Prepare each row step by step, rather than starting and finishing one transplant at a time. This way the plants get uniform amounts of fertilizer, even spacing and water, and the rows are generally neater. Cole crop roots need large enough planting holes and loosened soil around them to take hold quickly. Use a trowel to dig 4- to 8-inch-deep holes. Space the holes 10-to 18-inches apart, depending on the crop.
Broccoli -- 5-to 18-inches apart for transplants; 4-to 8- inches apart for seeds.
Brussels Sprouts -- 8-to 24-inches apart for transplants; 4-to 8-inches apart for seeds
Cabbage -- 10-to 12-inches apart for transplants; 4-to 8- inches apart for seeds
Cauliflower -- 10-to 12-inches apart for transplants; 4-to 8-inches apart for seeds
Chinese cabbage -- 4-to 5-inches apart for seeds
Kohlrabi -- 3-to 4-inches apart for seeds
Next, drop a small handful of compost or fertilizer in each hole and cover it with one to two inches of soil. This prevents the nitrogen in the fertilizer from burning any roots that touch it. Do use the hole with water. By making it muddy and soupy, you create a complete moisture seal around the roots that helps each plant take hold. Carefully lift a plant from the flat, cupping the roots in your hand to protect them. The ideal transplant has more roots than leaves. You can create this situation by pinching off some of the big outer leaves on each transplant, making certain to leave the center "mouse ear" leaves. Place a cutworm collar around the stem of each seedling, then place the seedling in the planting hole. Remember to put it at the same depth as it was in its original container. Scoop soil into the hole to fill it back to level ground. Firm the soil around the plant and water it well before moving on to the next one.
An absolute must with cole crops is rotation. Do not plant cole crops in the same place from year to year especially the cabbage family. Pest and disease that attack cole crops live in the soil to avoid damage to your crop you must rotate them and plant in a new section each year to control these problems. If you are planning two crops in one year Spring and Fall you need to rotate these as well. Also, be sure to keep your plants sprayed to keep insects from damaging or killing your plants. You should keep an eye out for signs of insects each time you venture to your garden.
There are also cole crops that you sow seed directly into your well-prepared soil. Some of these people may not even realize they are cole crops. These include: Collards, Kale, Mustard, Turnips, Radishes. Great companions to cole crops in the spring that tolerate cool weather are peas, onions, potatoes, lettuce, Raddichio, and Arugula.
Good Luck with those “Cole Crops” and get planting with Mammoth Cave Transplants!
“A garden is a grand teacher, it teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” ~Gertrude Jekyll