Cole crops DO like the cold

Note: Much of this information is from publications of the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service

"Cold" and "cole" sound the same but have different meanings. "Cold," of course, refers to temperature. "Cole" relates to various plants in the Cruciferae or mustard family. Though you might not be familiar with the scientific name or enjoy eating mustard greens, you are certainly familiar with members of this family which provide Texas gardeners with many gourmet delights during the winter months.

When I refer to “cole” crops on the radio show, I usually get an email or two with questions about “cold” crops. The “cole” crops I most often refer to include cool-season plants such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips and watercress.

Most gardeners know turnips can be grown for their greens (leaves) or their roots. When growing a member of the Cruciferae family, "what you see, is what you get … to eat."

If you haven’t planted any yet, get busy this week. They will really enjoy this mild fall weather, and they’ll probably be hardy enough to handle slight freezes when we get a cold front. Cabbage, for instance, can withstand temperatures down to 20 or even 15 degrees. Cauliflower and chard are more sensitive, though, as are broccoli, collards, kale, kohlrabi, or mustard. When broccoli plants have produced buds, for example, even a light frost may cause considerable damage since clusters freeze, turn brown and ultimately rot.

Cole crops’ chances for survival are influenced by weather conditions they experience prior to their exposure to cold temperatures. Their maturity also has a lot to do with the amount of cold each can endure.

Cole crops grow best at a monthly mean temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. This occurs when temperatures are 80 degrees or less during the day, and 60 degrees or less during the night. In most parts of Texas, these ranges occur in October and November. For the best quality, slow-maturing cole crops such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli should be directly seeded or transplanted in August or early September. Fast-maturing varieties such as collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, and turnips can be planted as late as September.

If you have raised beds built for spring and summer gardens, cole crops can go in them, but give the plants a little kick in the pants by tilling in an inch or two of compost. Existing beds could probably also use an additional hit of trace elements and trace mineral with products such as Nature’s Way Resources Remineralizer, Soil Mender’s Trace Elements or Azomite. If you’re building a brand-new raised bed just for cole crops, use the basic recipe of two parts rose soil to one part compost. For more clarification, give me a call this weekend on the GardenLine radio show.


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