The Brassicas Conundrum and the fall garden surprise they hold


This is what we’ve been doing at our place in the after-school hours: Mack and I have been mowing and cleaning up our place, cutting down and burning thistles on this afternoon. Scout keeps an ever-watchful eye on Mack, her favorite person in the world.

Did you ever see a farm woman go so crazy about gardening in the fall as I have? This year has been a banner year for fall gardening here in Nebraska. Days have been warm and nights cool, but not cold enough to freeze everything into a wilted and crumpled submission. Well, until last night. Last night’s 25° probably means that I’m finished with another couple sections of my garden. Well, okay. It happens eventually here in the Midwest. Everything freezes. And we re-group and clean the house and tidy up the yard, and plan for next spring’s garden. *sigh* I’m okay with this. I guess.

But before we turn all our attention to indoors matters (I do have some news to report, concerning our ne’erending kitchen remodel!), I have a potentially-life-enhancing, brassica-related revelation to share with you today, gentle reader. But I can’t stand not to have a little build-up of sorts. In essence, you need to know the backstory to fully appreciate this NEWS on the brassica front. Are you with me? Grab a cuppa tea.

So . . . you have a hard freeze at last, and everything freezes in your garden except for the brassicas. Right?

Unfamiliar with the term “brassica”? That’s okay. Here we go.



1. any plant belonging to the genus Brassica, of the mustard family, including many economicallyimportant vegetables, as cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, and mustard.
 2. crop known to incite organic gardeners to pull every last hair out from their heads, and tear every last shred of clothing as well, in growing them.
Question: Why the hair-pulling and clothing-tearing?

Maybe it’s just me . . . probably it’s just me . . . but . . . in my garden . . . it is the brassicas that I plant with the most pure and ardent hope and devotion in the early spring, without exception. They grow beautifully for a couple months.

Remember early spring? Remember how dewy-fresh, and how filled with sweetness it is? Every day is a gift! You throw off your woolies at last, and the sun warms your winter-pale skin in the nicest way. You hear—and then you see–the brilliant blue of the shy bluebirds, flitting through and looking for nesting places. And then. One day there is a breeze from the south, and it’s . . . warm. You breath it in, and you smell moist earth and you–simply–melt–inside.

Baby broccoli grows on old plants. Lovely, eh?

Baby broccoli grows on old plants. Lovely, eh?

And that’s when you plant your brassicas.
You may also tuck in a row of radishes, and some early lettuces, but you really go to town on those brassicas, hoo boy. They give your joy over the arrival of spring real teeth, as it were. You are ready to eat it up, the warm breezes, the tiny plants, the moist earth, all of it.
Every year I raise some plants from seeds in plug trays in my basement, and I pick up still more at the nursery (because it’s very early spring, and I honestly can’t resist) and I PLANT THEM ALL because, you know . . . Hope. And also at that point in the gardening season, that is to say the very cusp of the season, the garden is wide-open and seems quite large.

Hope springs eternal in the early spring garden, does it not?

So, I will admit it. (And please hang with me, I am getting to my point very soon.) Though my garden space is not unlimited, this early spring I planted the following, all in the brassica family (don’t laugh):
  • green cabbages
  • purple cabbages
  • kale
  • kalettes (confusing cross between kale and brussels sprouts, more about this in a post to follow)
  • cauliflower
  • French cabbages (the super-cute pointy ones)
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • collards
  • some other big leafy stuff that I don’t have a record of what it is
  • Romanesco broccoli (cross between cauliflower and broccoli)
  • Probably something else that I’ve forgotten
Twelve types of brassicas. Seems a little nutty, doesn’t it? So everything, as it does, goes swimmingly for a couple of months. But as the weather warms up, the bugs move in. And bugs just love the brassicas.
The most cunning of baby cabbages grow on the stump of the old cabbage plants.

The most cunning of baby cabbages grow on the stumps of the old cabbage plants.

By late July, by which time I’ve been battling the vile cabbage moth for several months, not to mention the quietly evil Harlequin bugs (I’ve not written a post about them yet, but I will . . . I will) I’m sick to distraction of cabbages, broccoli, kale, and cauliflowers. The once-beautiful leaves and buds are lacey with holes from the bugs, and I’m discouraged and feeling like a failure. Mind you. I know how to keep the bugs from them, and I employ these measures for a good long time, but then a big wind comes up and blows the covers off of them, and/or the tomatoes and peppers are ripe and want picking, and life intervenes and makes it difficult to spend time coddling the brassicas.

That’s when, in a furious fit of garden-tidying, I pull them all up. Or at least (pause for effect) I used to.

I just thought of a handy analogy, using childbirth–you know during labor, mamas, when transition hits and you yell “I don’t want to have this baby after all!! I have changed my mind!! Except it’s “I don’t want these bug-laden and worm-chewed brassicas in my garden after all! I have changed my mind!”
(Just felt like typing this in orange.)

Of course, it’s much easier to pull up your brassicas than to reverse the course of labor once it has started (right?) so . . . you pull them up. Every last one. Boom, baby. You then toss them to your happy pigs, or your perennially-peckish chickens, and you brush your hands together and say “that’s that, better luck next year, baby!” Although . . . you do feel a mild sense of disappointment and/or ennui because once again you failed at raising a decent crop of brassicas. You wonder if you’ll ever raise them again, truth is. It’s just so much easier to raise radishes. Or tomatoes. Gumdrops. Piggies. Whatever. Anything.

And . . . at least the chickens and/or pigs have a few very happy moments, eating the last of this year’s bug-invested brassica crop, eh?

Is it just me? Please tell me no, gentle reader. Are you tempted to just give up on brassicas, too?

Kalettes are a wonderful new crop with the LONGEST SEASON IN THE WORLD. Here's what they look like. More on them later, though!

Kalettes are a wonderful new crop with the LONGEST SEASON IN THE WORLD. Here’s what they look like. More on them later, though!

So. To the point. At last. *phew* A few years ago, something wonderful and unexpected happened, in my brassica patch. First, all of the above happened: the over-ambitious brassica-planting spree, the euphoric few months of lovely growth, and then the bugs moving in and spoiling everything, as they do, all of it. I did harvest some broccoli and a few cabbages and a few cauliflower heads, too. But then, I was too lazy or busy or distracted or green-eyed or something, and instead of pulling up all the brassicas, I simply let them be. The weeds took advantage of my benign neglect, and it wasn’t long before I kind of forgot about that corner of the garden. Weeks went by. Months. The weeds hid the used-up plants, and I didn’t care.

Before I knew it, it was fall, and time to clean up the garden.

And then. During a spate of fall garden clean-up, I stumbled into the neglected and weed-hidden brassica patch of my garden, and I found . . . . (drum roll puh-lease) this:

*gasp* A beautiful new head of cauliflower had grow on the tired old plant!

*gasp* A beautiful new head of cauliflower had grown on the tired old plant!

And that wasn’t all. New, dear fresh little heads of cabbage grew on the old cabbage plants. Broccoli heads–small, but perfect–had grown on the already-harvested broccoli plants. That’s when I stood up in my garden and shrieked happily to the passing flocks of geese, far overhead:

“Don’t pull up your brassicas! Give them a second chance!!” or something similarly nutty. Nutty garden people would understand this. Probably not the geese.

So that’s it: my thrilling discovery that I wanted to share with you today, gentle readers. Don’t pull up those brassica plants in despair, mid-summer! There’s new life buried in them! Possibly this isn’t news to you. But if it is, please share with your gardening friends! Pin, tweet, post to Facebook, shriek up into the air–let’s get the word out!

And thank you for popping in!


Have a good one, yourself!


13 thoughts on “The Brassicas Conundrum and the fall garden surprise they hold

  1. Chef William Chaney

    I really enjoyed this post because it kind of reminded me of Matthew 13: 24-30
    That’s just how my mind works at times…but then, I don’t think that looking up and yelling at a passing flock of geese is all that strange, after all they are honking at you to let you know they are there for you……..
    I will be picking up some seed when we’re in the states next month because they don’t have nurseries here in Mexico where you can pick up a couple of starter plants…for about 90 percent of your garden it’s start with seeds….but then there is only one tractor within 20 miles of our farm so we use a donkey with a single plow behind it to work the ground…after that it’s hand tools……I should write a book “gardening in the Rough” and take pictures of the process…..not that anyone would buy it but it would be a fun project.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I would certainly read that book, William! Any chance you could stop by and said HEY!? I might have some seeds I could share with you!

      1. cookinmom

        Ahhh yes, what a beautiful sight…I did miss that post! Speaking of Opossums, we have an armadillo that comes to visit and steals all our worms and digs up our garden…grrrrh. :/ I don’t know which is worse, moles, opossums or armadillos!?! I planted some of my onions again a few weeks ago, the way you told me to last yr (remember the armadilllo dug them up!?!). Hopefully that/those $%##@%:P varmint will leave it alone this yr. Smart move on the chicken tractor!

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          Now armadillos are one critter that we don’t have plaguing us here in Nebraska! Woodchucks, squirrels, mice, ground squirrels, deer, and opossums can all potentially be a pain in the backside to gardeners, though. Oh, and bunnies!! Don’t get me started on those fluffy-bottomed denizens of evil!! They can chomp down an entire bed of early spring lettuce overnight! Good luck foiling the armadillo!

  2. Kay

    This is great news! I, too, yank out the tired, bug-ridden cole crops when I’m tired of it all. Next year I will plant them all in a square foot bed and ignore them. 🙂

  3. Jane Cornwell

    I’m in the southeast corner of New Mexico. Next summer, I’m going to Plant my cole crops in August. It will be 100 in the day and 80 at night. September cooler, Won’t expect first frost until mid November. This year I didn’t plant them until October and that was too late. Spring planting didn’t work at all, the plants all died inJuly and August. So..I have a new plan for next year!

  4. Tina

    I haven’t been brave enough to grow any brassicas, kale doesn’t count does it? I can’t wait to hear about the kalettes, that sounds right up my alley!

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