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.

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.

2 thoughts on “Spring Update, and Brassicas

  1. Becky

    Hi Peter – enjoying the posts! You mention verticillium wilt that affects eggplant … what are the symptoms? My eggplant starts are not looking well…

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Hi Becky,
      The flowers wilt and if they do manage to set fruit the tiny eggplants don’t develop. The whole plant looks set back instead of thriving. I grew 20 eggplants in large pots with fresh commercial soil last year as a test and all did well. Though it was a lot of expense and extra work. This year I am down to 3 pots with fresh soil but there is one plant already that seems lagging and droops in the sun. Maybe some of my affected garden soil came in on the tools? May have to think about sterilizing my trowel! Seems a shame not to be able to grow eggplants along with the peppers and tomatoes, the basic trio for ratatouille.
      Eggplants seem to need some pampering, including a little shade in the afternoon, according to one source I read somewhere. Unfortunately our quasi-Mediterranean summer weather has not completely evolved yet into sunny Provence. Although I do see that a sizable grape vineyard has been planted this spring at the south-facing base of Mt. Erie. We shall see if the Fidalgo Island site can match the success of wine growers in the San Juans or the Upper Skagit.
      At my Mt. Erie garden I have a mature arbor of Thompson Seedless table grapes that never really get ripe, although I appreciate the shady place to sit and the abundant grape leaves for Greek dolmas and pickling.

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