Independence Day is an amazing part of the summer. Many of us are traveling, spending time with friends, and celebrating our nation’s independence. Whether we celebrate with fireworks, community service activities, baseball games, or other events, we all have family traditions. To me, the epitome of Independence Day celebrations involves the cookout – a classic Independence Day tradition. Throughout Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the air will be filled with the aromas of families grilling hamburgers and hotdogs, while a variety of sides adorn our tables decorated with red, white, and blue. One particular part of the cookout is nostalgic to me – coleslaw.
Yes – many people think coleslaw is disgusting but I don’t. My grandmother made the best coleslaw. It was an unbelievably refreshing part of our cookout ‘fixins’. Many times we would harvest the ingredients and immediately begin preparing the dish to eat. Despite its variability in taste and ingredients, have you ever considered the name? Specifically, what is ‘Cole’?
In this “In the Garden, We Grow” blog, we will explore the classification of garden greens called “Cole Crops.” In previous articles of the series, we discussed the basics of starting your own garden and the importance of your garden soil. This week’s blog will discuss cole crops, their variety, and what to expect when growing them in your garden.
A cole crop usually has a loose definition, but usually refers to vegetable crops within the botanical genus “Brassica”. Some may argue a cole crop is specifically a vegetable crop within the species Brassica oleracea. No matter how you slice it…well, julienne it, there is a significant amount of diversity within the Brassica genus. These crops include kale, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, turnips, pakchoi, and rutabaga (to name a few). Specifically, the term “cole” derives from a root word in Latin, “caulis”, which means cabbage.
Planting Your Cole Crops
Do not plant your cole crops in the summer. Cole crops should be planted during the cooler time of year. In North Florida, cole crops should be planted between August and February. Luckily we have a relatively long planting window for cole crops. South Florida can only plant between October and January. Cole crops are a type of cold crop – specifically a crop that needs cooler temperatures to be successful. In August you may begin planting transplants of our cole crops, but you can begin seeds indoors now that will be ready to transplant next month.
Growing cole crops within your garden is relatively easy, but you still need to be mindful of pests and diseases. There are a number of insects that exclusively feed on these crops, so you should be mindful. Nonetheless, scouting your vegetable garden regularly will easily allow you to manage any pest outbreak. Common pests include moths (specifically their larva, or caterpillar), aphids, and beetles.
Manually removing the insects and disposing of them is the most effective way of control when populations are small. During heavier outbreaks of pests, you may need to use other biological or chemical controls. Usually, horticultural oils/soaps and Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) will give great control of most pests.
Water & Nutrition
During growth, your cole crops will need adequate water and fertilization. Without either, your plants may not develop properly or be poor producers. Usually, two to three light applications of fertilizers may be applied during plant growth, but plants like our leafy greens (kale, cabbage, etc), benefit greatly from side-dressing with a nitrogen-containing fertilizer.
Your plants like moisture, but do not like excessively wet soils. Your soil type will determine the frequency of application. Utilization of mulch or high-organic material will decrease irrigation frequency, while sandy soils dry out very quickly and need more frequent irrigation. Using micro-irrigation, such as dripline can help improve your irrigation efficiency and provide water only to your plants.
Our Cold Cole Crops – In the Garden, We Grow
Cole crops are wonderful components of any vegetable garden. Due to our prolonged cooler season without frosts throughout the fall, winter, and spring, we can plant a wide diversity of cole crops. This resiliency and adaptability allow Florida vegetable gardens to be highly productive. So, at your upcoming Independence Day events, you may see coleslaw as one of the many sides on the table. You may now have a better understanding of cole crops and consider how you can grow these awesome groups of crops in your garden. For in the garden, we grow.