Thursday, February 12, 2009

Growing cabbage, brocolli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts

Since they are related and grown in the same fashion, I am going to cover cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts all at once. Kale is also a member of the cabbage family.

I grow a lot of cabbage family plants. One of Dan’s favorite foods is coleslaw and there is nothing like coleslaw made from fresh cabbage that you just picked from the garden. Andy isn’t a fan of cabbage so much but he does like cabbage rolls. Sauerkraut is probably my favorite way to eat the cabbage I grow.

We eat broccoli raw as snacks, in salads, lightly steamed, and in stir fries. Dan juices it. And I freeze extra to eat during the winter. Andy doesn’t like cauliflower (yet) but Dan and I eat it raw as snacks, in salads, lightly steamed and in stir fries. In addition to freezing it, I also preserve it by pickling. Yum.

We are also big fans of Brussels sprouts – although Andy has decided that he no longer likes them. One of my fondest memories is of grocery shopping with Andy when he was about 3 years old and we were in the produce section and he spotted Brussels sprouts and pointed and said “Look Mommy, they have Brussels sprouts, can we buy some? Pleeeeease? There was another lady nearby who did a double take at that. It was so cute – I try and remind him of that when he says he doesn’t like them but he just doesn’t remember it. We mostly eat them lightly steamed and I freeze extras.

Green is the most popular color of cabbage. I like to grow red cabbage, which is actually more of a purple color. There is also white cabbage. Broccoli comes in just the color green (or is there a purple variety also? Might be). Cauliflower comes in white, yellow and purple heads. Brussels sprouts are green or purple.

You want to start cabbage plants indoors (or buy plants). Cabbage family plants can tolerate the cold so you can transplant them earlier than other plants – 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost. Cabbage family plants like cool weather and will bolt (go to seed) quickly when the weather turns hot so you want to get them in your garden early. You can also plant a second crop in late July for a fall harvest.

You will need to harden off your plants before transplanting them. Hardening off is getting the plant used to the new environment where it will be growing. You start by taking them outside for a few hours a day and extend the time they are out to get them used to the elements. If plants aren’t properly hardened off before transplanting, their survival rate is slim.

You want to watch for cabbage worms – they can devastate your crop pretty quickly. You will know if you have them when you start seeing either holes in your cabbage or lots of little white butterflies (cabbage butterflies) hanging around your cabbage family plants.

Another problem you might have with cabbage is splitting – where the whole head splits open. It is caused by it taking in water too fast and the water can’t evaporate through its tightly packed leaves causing it to split. This often happens after a dry spell followed by a lot of rain – you can prevent this by even watering.

You need to tie the leaves over the cauliflower heads to prevent the sun from getting to them. This is called blanching and keeps the head nice and white. Some varieties are self blanching – where the leaves grow tightly around the head, but you may still need to tie them.

You want to pull the bottom leaves off Brussels sprouts – the sprouts will form better if you do.
Harvest cabbage when the heads are the size you desire. Harvest broccoli before the yellow flowers appear. Broccoli will produce side shoots after the main head is cut. Harvest cauliflower when the heads are firm and before they start to loosen. Check them periodically so you can harvest them at just the right time.

Brussels sprouts taste better if you can wait until after the first frost to harvest them. I usually can’t wait and start pulling some off the bottom as soon as they are big enough.

All cabbage family plants are great sources of vitamins A and C, iron, beta carotene, and fiber. They are also a great source of glucosinolates, phytonutrients that remove free radicals from the body by stimulating your body’s own antioxidant systems. They have been shown to help prevent certain cancers. They are also low in calories.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I finally placed my seed order!

This is the latest I have ever placed my seed order. I usually get it done in January. I have just been buried deep in books and studying lately - I am so ready to be done with grad school.

If you haven't placed your order yet I would recommend doing so soon. With the economy in the state that it is, more people are planting vegetable gardens than ever before and seed companies do run out of some popular seeds. So order early to be sure and get what you want.

Why order from a seed company instead of just buying them at the grocery store? You get a better variety and you have more information available to help you make a better choice. All seed catalogs (both in print and online) provide a lot more information about the plant - where it will grow, what it needs, etc. than you can read on the back of the tiny seed packet.

I do save seeds from some of my veggies (you can't do that with hybrids) and I also use left over seeds from the year before (I just plant extras in case they aren't as fertile - I just hate to waste) - so I don't have to order all my seeds every year.

I ordered my seeds from Gurney's this year. I've had great success with plants and seeds I have ordered from them in the past. They always ship right on time.

Here is what I ordered: (I included the order number in case you want to try the same ones)
Spinach - Vital Green #75782
Bell Peppers - Sweet Bell Hybrid Pepper Mix #14880
Cucumbers - Gurney's Burpless II Hybrid Cucumber #14880
Potatoes - Red Pontiac #74020
Pole Beans - Purple Pod #14196
Cauliflower - Farmer's Extra Early #71559
Carrot - Sweetness II Hybrid # 69955 & Rainbow Blend #73512
Cantaloupe - Athena Hybrid #66185 - this was Andy's request - he is going to grow these.
Herbs - Coriander/Cilantro #14580
Onion - Yellow Sweet Spanish Hybrid #15306 - Onions are the only plants I order
Hot Peppers - Hot Pepper Mix #69942
Tomatoes - Roma #15062 & Golden Rave #75784
Watermelon - Gurney's Delight Hybrid #69937
and lastly I am replacing my beloved peach tree that I lost last year. Contender #65839 - the Semi-Dwarf Deluxe.

I am starting to get really excited about spring - I can't wait for it to come. This year is going to be a much better gardening year - I can just feel it.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It really has been a brutal winter this year!

We gardeners are obsessed with the weather and its trends. We love to talk about how our current weather deviates from the norm and what that means for our gardens.

I came upon this quote this morning from Kathleen Norris, an American poet -

"There seems to be so much more winter than we need this year."

I don't know what year she was talking about but I think the quote can be applied to this winter as well. At least here in Minnesota.

We had no January thaw this year. A January thaw is defined as having two consecutive days above 32 degrees. We did not reach above 32 degrees F until January 31 - and it was so welcome. Even if the temps did plummet back down until yesterday. I *think* and *hope* the bitter cold days are finally behind us. The last time we did not have a January thaw was 1982.

We had 33 consecutive days when the temperature did not rise about 32 degree F. That is the 11th longest stretch of below freezing weather since they have been keeping track. It was cold this year. Monthly mean temperatures for January were 4 to 8 degrees below normal - which doesn't seem like that much - until you get your heating bill............

I lost a good and faithful companion in all of this cold. When she no longer wanted to walk to the bus stop in the mornings I just chalked it up to being really cold - the same when she stopped wanting to go outside to go potty - and maybe the cold wasn't so pleasant on old bones - but in the end it was old age that took my beloved Cocker Spaniel Molly from me. She was 15 years old, totally deaf and had growths all over her and I hated to part with her. She was with me when I was single in AZ and she moved with me to MN. She accepted Dan when we married and loved Andy when he was born and became his playmate as he grew older. I will miss Molly laying behind the currant bushes in the summer heat. I like to think that she is lying behind some currant bushes somewhere else right now.

And now it is February with the promise of spring to look forward to. It is time to get your seed orders placed if you haven't already (or aren't saving seeds) and plan that garden. It is a time to look forward not back. For the first time in many years I have to worry about puppy proofing my garden. My raised bed has a fence around it to keep the rabbits out but I have many other areas that I have a feeling will be trampled by puppy feet. Yes, we have already replaced Molly. Actually we got Daisy in October so we had some overlap. She is a Bichon/Shitzu mix. She is full of energy and loves to play with Andy and yet also a great lap dog. Having her has eased the pain of missing Molly.

So, here's to February and looking forward. January's cold has lifted. Spring will be here soon.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Growing Green Beans

Green Beans are something that always grows well for me every year. I like to pick them young and tender and lightly steam them. I grow enough so I can freeze extras to get us through the winter months. I always can a few for Andy as well – he really likes canned green beans and only tolerates the frozen which is mine and Dan’s preference. Most years I do freeze and can enough extras to last. This year, however, we are out and buying them in the store. I may increase the amount of beans I plant this year.

Most people plant bush beans. I prefer pole beans – I think they work better in my small garden and that I get more out of a small area. You do need something for pole beans to grow on. I have two metal bean towers that I purchase from a seed catalog several years ago. Some people grow sweet corn by their beans and let the bean grow up on the corn (my garden is too small for corn). When I lived in Arizona, I went out in the desert and collected the tall poles from the yucca plants and fashioned them into a teepee in my garden for the beans to grow on. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to find something to support your bean plants. Of course, if you opt to grow bush beans, you don’t need any support at all.

Beans are directed seeded in the garden when all chance of frost is past. If you plant them too early they will rot in the ground. You do not want to plant them in the same spot every year – you need to move them around in your garden as they are more susceptible to disease if planted in the same spot every year.

I like to plant one tower with green beans and the other one with yellow wax beans. I like variety in color in my garden and on my dinner plate.

Once you start getting beans on your plants, you want to keep them picked – that is the secret to getting more – pick them and they will keep producing. You should never pick beans when the plants are wet – doing so can spread disease.

Beans are a good source of complex carbohydrate and fiber. They are also good sources of folic acid and molybdenum as well as phosphorus, iron, protein, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Beans are full of cholesterol lowering fiber. The high fiber content also prevents your blood sugar from rising too quickly after a meal.