Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Brassicas: Planting Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts

Do you have your fall crops planted? Veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels Sprouts are often planted in the spring, but why? These crops, which are all related to one another and called Brassicas, like cool weather and turn bitter in warm weather. In fact, they get sweeter after a light frost, and frost won't harm them a bit. Why, then, should we fight to get them in the garden in early April in this changeable Ohio weather, and worry that we'll get a hot spell before we can harvest? Instead, with a little pre-planning, they can be planted in early August and be enjoyed up until Christmas right from the garden.

The first thing to do is make a plan. You don't need to leave a bare spot in your garden for them. Instead, plant a crop that's in and out quickly. I like to use lettuce, edamame, garlic, onions, green beans or radishes, all of which will be harvested and gone before it's time to plant the fall crops. The second bit of planning you need to do is to start your seeds in late June/early July so that the seedlings are ready to put in the garden by mid August. Or, you can totally forget to plant the seeds like I did, and head down to your friendly neighborhood nursery to pay your forgetfulness tax. My seedlings came from Dill's this year and cost me $20 instead of the dollar or two they would have cost had I gotten the seeds planted on time--a forgetfulness tax, indeed! What you probably won't have luck with is direct seeding these crops in the garden. They really need to be set out as transplants as they will not germinate well in the garden.

Once you've harvested the first crop of the year, remove the spent plants and till the soil. Brassicas are really easy to grow. They would love a nice rich organic soil, but will produce OK even in my clayey garden. They do like a shot of balanced fertilizer when they're planted to give them some nitrogen and get the plants going, and like to be mulched to keep the soil moist. Don't forget to water often when they're first set in the garden. The rest of the garden will be well established by this point and not need water very often, but the transplants don't have good root systems yet and will need to stay moist.

Of course, everything can go perfectly according to plan, you may still have problems. I planted my beautiful seedlings, and they looked so fresh and perfect--quite the contrast to the rest of the garden, which is weedy and overgrown. I felt quite the sense of accomplishment. Then I came back the next day to water, and found this:

This is what's left of a broccoli seedling after rabbits have gotten done with it. Now, I should know better. Really. I know there are rabbits that treat my garden as a salad bar--I lost all my edamame this year, and all my chard last year. But I was still shocked and dismayed to find all my hard work nibbled. I sped to Home Depot to find fencing, but decided in the end that good old-fashioned chicken wire would do the trick. I dismantled the meat birds' pen (won't need that again until next spring) and put up a fence the very next morning. I think the nibbled plants will be OK. The rabbits didn't seem to enjoy the Brussels Sprouts very much, and I think there's enough of the broccoli seedlings left that they'll come back. Probably. I am really not a fan of rabbits.

Look for a post on putting up a garden fence next spring. I'm not going another year of not planting things like lettuce, beets, edamame, and chard because the rabbits will just eat it anyway.

Here's what my patch looked like after the fence was complete. Can you see the green sticks on the left hand side of the plot where the broccoli used to be? The plants that still have leaves are the Brussels Sprouts. The seedlings still need to be mulched, but the fence was my first priority this week.

 If you need more specific planting instructions, check out this Ohioline bulletin. Get those brassicas in the ground, and I'll see you next week.