COLE CROPS FOR COLD WEATHER
It is anything but cold in Texas now, but the
time to plant and transplant cole crops has arrived. The terms
"cold" and "cole" are pronounced the same
but have different meanings.
"Cold", of course, refers to temperature.
"Cole" refers to any of various plants belonging
to the Cruciferae or mustard family. Even though you might
not be familiar with the impressive scientific name, or enjoy
eating mustard, you are certainly familiar with other members
of this family which furnish Texas gardeners with many gourmet
delights during the winter months.
The mustard family includes cool season crops
such as Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale,
kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips and watercress. All of
these familiar garden crops can trace their history to a common
ancestry of wild cabbage originating in the Mediterranean
and Asia Minor area.
The close kinship of these crops enable diversified
usage of plant parts. For instance, Brussels sprout plants
are grown by most gardeners for the miniature heads (sprouts)
which develop in the axils of the leaves. However, the leaves
of Brussels sprouts are considered by some to be milder and
sweeter than those of the collard, which is grown especially
for leaf production. Most gardeners are familiar with the
fact that turnips can be grown for the greens (leaves) or
for the turnip roots. In other words, when growing a member
of the Cruciferae family the saying "what you see is
what you get (to eat)" truly applies!
This group of cole crops enjoy cool seasons
and are somewhat cold tolerant. Cabbage, for instance, can
withstand frost down to 20 degrees or even 15 degrees F. Cauliflower
and chard are more sensitive to cold than broccoli, collards,
kale, kohlrabi, or mustard. The conditioning of the plants
as influenced by weather conditions prior to exposure to cold
temperatures determine plant survival. Maturity of the plant
also has much to do with the amount of cold that cole crops
can survive. When broccoli plants have produced buds, even
a light frost may cause considerable damage since clusters
freeze, turn brown and ultimately rot.
The cole crops grow best at a monthly mean
temperature of 60 to 70 degrees F. This occurs when temperatures
are 80 degrees F. or less during the day and 60 degrees F.
or less during the night. In Texas these ranges occur in October.
In order to produce the best quality of the
slower maturing cole crops such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage,
cauliflower and broccoli, transplants should be planted in
gardens in late August or early September. These crops could
have been directly seeded into the garden area in early August,
but now it is too late to plant from seed.
Faster maturing, cold-tolerant, cole crops
such as collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, and turnips can
still be directly seeded into the garden area.
Of course, with any good news there always
seems to be a nemesis. The horror of cole crop producers is
the green looper. This worm, or more appropriately, caterpillar,
can make your plants holeyer than thou can imagine faster
than thou can believe it! The more common insecticides such
as sevin, malathion, diazinon are ineffective against this
inevitable demon. The only effective control is an organic
insecticide called Bt. The initials are used because very
few people can say Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt. is easier!
Bt. is sold in local nurseries as Thuricide, Dipel, Bactus,
Biological Worm Control, Leptox, SOK, Novabac or Tribacture.
To be effective Bt. needs to be handled properly.
Bt. is a naturally occurring pathogen that is biodegradable
in the environment. Exposure to sunlight may cause Bt. spores
and crystals to lose their viability over time. To receive
maximum benefit from this product, apply late in the evening.
As mentioned, Bt. must be ingested by caterpillars
before it will be effective. Caterpillars can actually swim
in it without being affected but one bite will insure their
demise. To insure that all feeding caterpillars will get a
bite of Bt., the product must be evenly spread on all surfaces
of the plant to be protected. Cole crops such as broccoli
and cabbage have a waxy-leaf surface which causes water to
bead and run off of the plant. The water containing the Bt.
spores must wet the surfaces of the plant evenly to be effective.
This can be accomplished by adding one teaspoon of liquid
soap per one gallon of mixed spray. The soap breaks the surface
tension on the leaf's surface and allows the Bt. product to
spread and dry evenly. This allows more of the leaf area to
have Bt.'s protection.
Another hint to successfully controlling loopers
is to annihilate them when they are small. A smaller individual
looper is easier to kill than a large one. Periodically, examine
the bottom surface of leaves. Look for areas that look like
they have been scratched with a fingernail. Upon closer examination,
you will find a tiny looper. Spray or dust then with the Bt.
product. Take action before the holes become large enough
to fly an airplane through!
When growing fall broccoli and cole crops,
don't concern yourself with the question of IF you're going
to be pestered by loopers. The question is WHEN will you have
loopers? When they do invade, don't let them go to your heads
(of broccoli and cauliflower, that is)! Use Bt.
For more information about growing cole crops,
see these websites:
September is the IDEAL time to plant or transplant
the cold weather champions such as beets, broccoli, Brussels
sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, garlic,
kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radish, spinach and turnip.
Listed among the cold tolerant vegetables which
can be planted now are some "strangers" to many
home gardens. Not all "strangers" are acceptable,
but I can assure you that some not-so-commonly-planted vegetables
such as Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and collards are among
the most nutritious in the plant kingdom. You may want to
try some of these this fall -- and fall IS the best time.
Brussels sprouts need a long, cool growing
season that our fall and winter weather provides. They can
withstand hard freezes and lower temperatures than almost
any other member of the cabbage family. I always say that
when Brussels sprout plants freeze, your house will probably
crumble and fall from the cold!
The Brussels sprout is one of the newest forms
of cabbage--one dating from the middle ages. It originated
in Northern Europe with Kohlrabi and rutabagas. Our present
strain was derived from a Savoy (crinkled) cabbage type. Brussels
sprouts are so named partly because the plant is supposed
to have been grown for a long time in the vicinity of Brussels
The Brussels sprout (Brassica oleracea gemmifera)
is a variety of cabbage or oleracea. The genus Brassica includes
40 or more species, originating in the Old World. They include
cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi,
pe-tsai, rape, rutabaga, turnips, and others. The genus Brassica
is part of the Cruciferae, or mustard, family. The Brussels
sprout is a biennial that produces its "sprouts"
in the first year and bears seeds the second.
Brussels sprouts need a long, cool growing
season. The plant can withstand considerable freezing. Best
quality sprouts are produced during a fall when there are
sunny days and cool nights. The Brussel sprouts plant is of
particular value because of its adaptability to the fall and
winter season, and its hardiness to cold weather. The plant
will withstand lower temperatures than almost any other member
of the cabbage family. Brussels sprouts should NEVER be planted
in the spring since they do require such a long growing season
and will not produce firm sprouts when spring temperatures
begin to rise.
Harvesting begins usually in 3 to 3- ½
months after transplanting. Early sprouts should be picked
over several times, with the lowest sprout on the plant taken
each time. Otherwise, they will open out and become yellow.
The first picking should not be delayed after the lower leaves
begin to turn yellow, since the sprouts get tough and lose
their delicate flavor. In picking, break off the leaf below
sprout and remove the sprout by breaking away from the stalk.
As the lower leaves and sprouts are removed, the plant continues
to push out new leaves at the top, and in the axil of each
leaf a bud, or sprout, is formed. All lower sprouts should
be removed even though they may fail to make solid little
One of the delicacies of Brussels sprouts which
has been overlooked for years is the taste of its leaves.
After a frost, the young edible leaves are sweeter and milder
than its famous cousin, collards, known for edible foliage.
However, a gardener must decide whether he wants foliage or
sprouts since pruning lower leaves before sprouts are ready
for harvest greatly reduces total sprout productivity.
The Brussels sprouts plant is really a tall-stemmed
cabbage in which many tiny heads ("sprouts") form
along the stem at the bases of the leaves, instead of making
one large head at the top of a short stem. After a head of
common cabbage is cut from the plant, numerous tiny heads
often will grow from the remaining stem in much the same manner
as in Brussels sprouts. Plant transplants in an out-of-the-way
section of your garden since these will need your attention
for several months.
Brussels sprouts may be served boiled, baked,
steamed, lyonnaised, French fried, au gratin, a la brigoule,
buttered, creoled, or almondined. Also, they may be served
in casseroles, salads, or soufflés, or with hollandaise,
peanut butter, mustard, cheese, béchamel sauce, paprika
and sour cream, tomato, or parmesan sauces. They may be prepared
with chestnuts, grapes, mushrooms, celery, sweet potatoes,
ham, squash, carrots, and tomatoes. To boil Brussels sprouts,
trim them as needed and cook in one-inch boiling salted water
or stock. Let sprouts cook without a cover for about 5 minutes,
then cover and cook about 10 minutes longer, or until just