It’s a big week here at the East Nashville Edible Garden – it’s time to set out the brassica starts. Brassicas are a group of vegetables that include kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. I’ve successfully grown kale and broccoli but not the last three, mainly due to the obscene amount of pests they attract who are hell bent on eating them in hours. If you want to grow brassicas, it’s full on war.

I started by growing the seeds outside. No luck – the cabbage butterflies were all over them and in a few days their eggs had hatched and the caterpillars were munching away.

The majority were salvaged and bought back inside to the grow boxes, far away from them pesky critters. They grew and the new leaves were not eaten.

In a few days Nashville will be leaving the insanity that is summer here and the 100 degree real feel temps will start to fall, so it’s time for the young brassicas to be released back into the wild.

 

brassica-seedlings

 

There are three things to consider when trying to keep plants alive and healthy – temperatures, soil and pests. The temps we’ve just covered (even though I bought the plants inside to keep the pests away, I think they would have struggled to get a good start in the heat anyway – oh, for 80 degree summers!)

Next to the earth. Since I mulch my garden, that had be pulled aside to get to the dirt underneath. Then I added a trowel full of good soil (I use a TN brand called Holy Cow, the same dirt I started my seeds in.) I also added a good tablespoon of azomite, for extra minerals and mixed them all together. Then the plants can go in, about 2′ apart.

 

azomite

 

Finally and most importantly – pests. There are two main pests in my garden which do the most damage to the brassicas. The first is the purely evil cutworm. The cutworm wraps itself around young seedlings and squeezes, literally cutting the top of the plant off. Here’s a big fat adult and he’s fat for a reason, as he’s been munching on my carrots for the last few days.

 

cutworm

 

The solution I’m trying, which worked on my bush beans this year, is by putting toothpicks around the stem of the seedling, so it prevents the worm from doing his damage. Fingers crossed.

 

cauliflower-seedling-1

 

If you get past a cutworm attack, prepare yourself for caterpillars. I think the best chance you have of not loosing your crop is to make a physical barrier to stop butterflies from laying their eggs to begin with. This year, I’m covering them with row covers. If I get through this season with any crop left, I’ll build better looking netted cages for next year, with fancy hinged roofs.

 

row-covers-on-cauliflower

 

So that is the brassica saga – episode one. The cauliflower is in and by the beginning of next week so will the kale, cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts. If you see me in the next week or two and I look exhausted, it’s because I haven’t gotten any sleep, having nightmares about human sized cutworms and caterpillars.

[UPDATE] After a couple of days under the row covers, the cauliflowers were very overheated, with some of the leaves drying out completely. I thought the covers would keep the heat down but the opposite happened. That means they have to come off until it gets much cooler, and I’ll be out twice a day to check on any butterfly eggs.

 

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