Category Archives: Brassicas

A Potato Problem; and a Perennial Brassica

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted May 25, 2020
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I’ve grown potatoes successfully for many years, always making sure to rotate my plantings each year, and to avoid disease using new potato seed instead of the last of my stored potatoes. I try to get mostly egg-sized seed potatoes to plant whole, and cut any larger ones into separate pieces with at least 2-3 eyes. I dry the cut ones for a day, to let the cut surface dry out.

This year, however, whole sections of the rows never sprouted, particularly the favorite Yukon Golds, with failure also in parts of the Cal Whites and a few of the Red Lasodas. When unearthed, the affected seed potatoes were all rotted, with no sprouts, particularly the ones that had been cut. Was the problem in the seed itself or in the soil? Or did the cutting open them to fungi? The area had been in pole beans and winter squash last year, and corn the year before, so soil rotation should not have been a concern. Plus, I had grown potatoes there in prior years. Very disappointing, since potatoes are as an easy and usually reliable crop.

Although there would be plenty of time to replant, the supply of seed potatoes is long gone, given this year’s surge in gardening interest. When a garden setback occurs, the best thing is to fill the gap quickly. So I planted winter squash starts to cover the bare soil: Cinderella‘s Coach, Kabocha, and Sweetmeat. Hopefully the fact that winter squash and pumpkins had been planted in the same area last year will not be an issue. Plus, the plot had a winter cover crop of annual rye that had been tilled in. Gardens are always an experiment and often an exercise in overcoming adversity.

Note: if anyone else had problems with their seed potatoes this year, please let me know. As in past years, my seed came from the hardware store in town.

A Perennial Brassica

Many years ago I received a gift packet of seeds from a pair of pilgrims who had walked the Camino and then returned the next year to serve as hostel hosts on the Path. The seed was an extremely frost-resistant variety of Kale, with large flat leaves like collards, and commonly grown in gardens in Galicia, thriving in the rainy winter coastal climate similar to the Maritime Northwest. Most unusual for a brassica, it was a perennial, not dying back after going to seed the second season. Each year the plant gets larger and bushier, makes flowers for seed, and surrounds itself with multitudes of seedlings. Fittingly, the tall, thick stalks are fashioned by local craftsmen along the Camino into lightweight walking sticks for the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella. Holy Brassica.

Sadly, the couple who had originally brought me the seed have now both passed on. So, in their memory I maintained several of these everlasting Spanish kales, until finally the plants got too large and had to be removed to make space. But the original plants left behind a store of viable seed in the soil. Even after several years, I found numerous seedlings sprouting up where the parent plants had been. So, as a way of perpetuating the variety, I transplanted them this year into super-sized pots meant for small trees and installed them as mementos in my non-vegetable backyard, hoping they will survive the deer who graze there each evening. I look forward to seeing the large green leaves, as emblematic to me of the Camino as the mileposts there marked with the sign of the pilgrim’s scallop shell.

Note: the variety is officially known as Cabbage-Kale, and originated in the Isle of Jersey.

 

Spring Update, and Brassicas

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted May 18, 2020
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Crops planted earlier in April are starting to take off. The first potato leaves are pushing up at the bottom of their trench and will need repeated hilling around the stalks to make more spuds and less foliage. The bush snap and tall snow peas are knee-high and starting to flower as they climb their trellises. The storage onion seedlings and the onion sets are 6-8 inches high, while the first beds of leek transplants are being installed.

In the hoop house all the tomato and pepper plants are finally in, the cucumber transplants are adding leaves, and the direct seeded cukes are starting to pop up. I have a few eggplants, but I do them in large pots filled with commercial soil to avoid the verticillium wilt disease that has built up in the garden soil over the years.

Finally, the early cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower starts, as well as the long-term Brussels Sprouts, are starting to push up against the floating row covers.

A Note on Brassicas: the 4-Season Crop

In the coastal Pacific Northwest’s moderate maritime climate vegetable gardeners are able to a grow one or more variety of brassicas year-round.

Broccoli
Photo by Betty Carteret

Cabbages start in the spring with a variety such as Early Jersey Wakefield, continue on through the summer with large heading varieties for slaw and sauerkraut, while long-standing red cabbage matures slowly over 100 growing days. Hardy Fall/Winter green cabbage such as January King, planted in mid-to-late summer, keep sprouting through our mild winters. Other cabbage varieties include the crinkly Savoy, as well as the various types of Oriental cabbage.

Broccoli is much the same, with early, mid-summer and fall crops. There are also two purple over-wintering varieties: the Valentine broccoli that heads up in late February or March, even amidst brief snowfalls, and the Purple Sprouting broccoli that slowly develops as a leafy bush all the winter and then produces masses of small edible buds in early spring.

Cauliflower I find is usually just one crop in summer, with both the standard white variety and the green Romanesco with its circular pattern of pointed buds. Brussels Sprouts, started in the spring, start to mature in late fall, and stand tall all winter.

Red Cabbage
Photo by Betty Carteret

With all these possibilities to fill up the garden space it is vital to rotate your cabbage crops to avoid build up of soil disease. Do not plant brassicas where they were grown the prior year. There are also endemic insect threats, especially the cabbage root maggot fly, which will destroy the roots of young brassica seedlings. The cabbage butterfly, the familiar white floater, produces caterpillars deep inside the cabbage head, but the damage is usually minimal. And aphids will hide in the soft tops of Brussels Sprouts in both summer and winter, but can be deterred by spraying with a mild solution of detergent and water.

Protect all brassicas initially against insects with floating row cover, well-sealed on the ground on all sides, and held up by wire hoops over the beds. I leave the cloth protection on until the plants are at least half grown or more and can survive on their own. Check often under the cloth to remove weeds, snails or slugs. The final reward is when you remove the cover to reveal the luxurious maturing crop. Almost like magic.