While this summer was kind to gardeners in our area — with sufficient rain and cooler average temperatures — I was surprisingly unproductive in my own green space. One of the casualties was my vegetable garden. For the first time in many summers, I didn’t plant a single vegetable. Now that the warm weather is coming to an end, I am, of course, filled with gardener’s remorse. While friends are harvesting many of their best vegetables, my kids and I are busy weeding our <empty> vegetable beds. And watching squirrels eat clean a single self-sown tomato plant that sprung up in one of our flower borders; a remnant from my homemade compost, I think.
So, we decided to learn — and hopefully get excited about — planting some fall crops. Pumpkins were the first vegetables that came to mind when I thought of harvesting in the fall. But it turns out that you actually have to plant those seeds in late spring/early summer. It was kind of a relief to me. Not that I have anything against pumpkins, but we wanted to grow something that we would actually eat, and how many pumpkin pies can one family take down? However, a quick Internet search revealed that there is an abundance of leafy, green vegetables that are actually supposed to be planted at the end of the summer. Enter the brassica.
The genus Brassica is large and diverse. Some of its widely distributed species, which include <Brassica oleracea> and <Brassic rapa>, were cultivated over generations to give us some of our most celebrated greens today: bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, turnips, Napa cabbage... and, yes, kale. We love kale! Who doesn’t love kale, now that we know it can cure everything from the common cold to cancer? Okay, not really. And we love it not only because it’s a “superfood”, but also because we love the taste and texture. So we decided to grow all the brassicas we wanted, which is all the easier because we don’t have any space constraints (see above for current state of vegetable beds).
If you, too, want to try your hand at brassicas for the first time, here’s what we learned...
* Get started as soon as you can because we're at the tail end of the planting season (mid- to late-summer).
* Choose short-season greens (30-50 days), which are also easiest to grow. These include baby kale, mustard greens, and bok choy, among others. If you’re determined to try longer-season (50-95 days) crops like broccoli, kale, or cauliflower, just know there’s a fair chance that the frost will steal them from you before they are ready to pick.
* Sow seeds directly into your beds, at a depth of about 1/4 inch.
* Water regularly. It’s essential to water generously during late-season temperature spikes to promote healthy growth and keep the plants from drying out, which can result in a strong, bitter flavor and early bolting.
* Keep an eye out for pests, and use floating row covers where necessary.
* Check the crop daily so that you can be sure to harvest brassicas young and fresh, as they don’t hold well in the field.
Enjoy, and let’s compare notes this winter!
— Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee