Although I still have tomatoes and peppers in production in my home garden, I know that these summer vegetables are on borrowed time. Although I like being able to harvest tomatoes on Thanksgiving, it’s the time of year to appreciate the amazing cool vegetables we can grow.
From broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards to cabbage and Brussels sprouts, these vegetables are commonly called cruciferous or cabbage crops. I think they are delicious, especially after a freeze take out my tomatoes and peppers.
The variety of shapes, sizes and colors within this group of vegetables is amazing. But what’s even more amazing is that these vegetables are all closely genetically related. In fact, they have a common ancestor.
Wild cabbage is a small plant from the region around the Mediterranean. Due to its nourishing foliage, farmers cultivated and tamed selected plants based on their desired characteristics.
For many, many thousands of years, we have developed leafy versions – kale and collards; buds – cabbage and Brussels sprouts; and flowers – broccoli and cauliflower.
As a group, they are known botanically as Brassica oleracea, and each has its own variety name: broccoli, B. oleracea var. italics; cauliflower, B. oleracea var. botrytis; kale, B. oleracea var. sabellica; collards, B. oleracea var. viridis; cabbage, B. oleracea var. capitata; and Brussels sprouts, B. oleracea var. gemmifera.
Because these vegetables are so closely related, they have similar growing needs and conditions.
The first is that they do not like wet feet. Like so many of our Mississippi landscaping and garden plants, good soil drainage is a must. Raised beds are a good choice for good drainage, and the addition of composted materials creates an optimal plant bed.
I really like growing these plants in containers because of the superior growth media available that allow for good drainage. I never have to worry about my plants having wet feet.
Although we want good soil drainage, we can not let the plants dry out. These plants need uniform soil moisture to be productive. We are likely to get dry weather during the winter months in Mississippi. In my Ocean Springs garden, we got less than 2 inches of rain in November.
Winter cold can quickly deplete the soil moisture. Apply mulch to help retain moisture, but be prepared to water as needed. And here’s a heads up: After watering, do not leave the hose attached to the nozzle. Frost temperatures can burst pipes fairly quickly.
For the best growth of cruciferous vegetables, do not neglect to fertilize the plants.
These vegetables are heavy feeds throughout the winter crop season. I like to add slow release fertilizer when transplanting to get the plants going well. Then I use a water-soluble fertilizer on a monthly basis to keep the plants healthy and grow strong.
Now it’s time to pick up some transplants in your favorite independent garden center. Follow these tips to enjoy nutritious and tasty vegetables throughout the winter gardening.
• Dr. Gary Bachman is an extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He also hosts the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org