Cole for Christmas
Finally, the perfect weather has arrived in southern Florida. It seems like a long time coming for those of us year-round residents. With this welcome season change comes the fairest weather of the year for our backyard vegetable gardens. Daytime temperatures reaching the mid seventies and sunny—followed by cool nights—in the low sixties means happy cole crops. All we have to do is provide enough water and nutrients and sit back and watch our cruciferous veggies flourish.
For those of you wondering, what is a cole crop? and no, you don’t have to make Santa’s naughty list to find out. These are any specific cruciferous plant in the brassica or mustard family of plants, (little round seeds). Most varieties we use today were originally developed in eastern Asia and Europe. They are among the easiest of edible veggies to grow during the Florida cool season and provide a quick nutrient rich harvest for your reward. Included in this family are: Broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower, radishes, daikon, turnips, collard greens, pac choy, arugula, tatsoi, and many more. From beginner to expert gardeners seeking gardening success, even in a small space, cole crops are the best choice.
Let’s explore what it takes to enjoy these wonderfully adapted crops from seed to harvest. Always make sure you source your seeds from a viable company, or seed saver, and they are fresh. Small round seeds only store for two to three years before they are no longer viable. Whatever you choose, broccoli or kale etc., make sure to obtain a cultivar suited for southern growing. Prepare your planting soil with lots of nutrients and as much compost as possible. Cole crops are heavy feeders and require a well balanced fertilizer blend. Direct seeding works well, follow the spacing and planting depth guidelines for your specific cultivar and seed away. Like magic, under the most optimal conditions, brassica seeds can sprout and bust through the soil within twenty four hours, but usually takes up to three days. Once through, their cotyledons or first leaves, will show off their heart shapes and within a week the first true leaves emerge. Once they get going they grow fast. You may be able to harvest cole crops such as arugula, and radishes within twenty one days for this point. Amazing!
These Brassicas have a natural resistance to the nematodes that inhabit our Florida soils. In fact, there are some varieties of mustard greens that actually smother nematode development and are intentionally planted to do so. This being said, they don’t have to deal with nematodes problems much. As for fertilizers, cole crops are simple feeders and are able to harvest nutrients from the soil where other plants can not. They can also tolerate a wide range of soil ph and actually seem to prefer our more alkaline soils. Provide a well balanced organic fertilizer like chicken manure and add plenty of potash for perfect plant development. They will need a lot of nitrogen too. For a quick nitrogen boost add blood meal. With the low light conditions garden plants need a quick acting source of nitrogen. Some of the best sources of potash include, kelp, green sand, sulfate of potash and azomite for extra minerals. Also, I like to use bone-meal to activate soil micro-organisms. Check out MRT nursery on 776 for all your organic fertilizer needs. They carry fertrell products which are omri listed organic and are my personal choice. If all goes well, you can watch your crops develop to maturity very quickly.
Brassicas are such a rewarding and easy crop to grow that more than fifty percent of my garden is planted with them. My personal favorites include broccoli, radishes, kale and best of all, hakurei salad turnips. If you haven’t tried a hakurei turnip, do yourself a favor and bite into a fresh one. They are juicy, crunchy, sweet and delicious, and the green tops are also tender and choice eating when cooked. I’ve often referred to them as ground apples and they have only a subtle hint of the earthy turnip flavor. Hakurei turnips were developed during the food crisis in post World War II Japan. They really hit a home run on this cross-pollinated triumph!
Check your timing. There are shortseason and long-season Brassica crops. The longer season ones like cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc. will need to be started early. Mid September is perfect timing to get these going. I start them in small pots, then transplant them to the garden once it’s cool enough. Otherwise, you can purchase healthy starts at your local nursery. Direct seed short-season crops start in late October for radishes, arugula and turnips. You’ll be sure to get cole for Christmas!
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