Gardeners Have Great Opportunity, and a Few Challenges, with Cole Crops

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

Those who had planted a fall garden are heavy into reaping its rewards. Planted earlier this fall, all kinds of ‘Cole’ crops are vigorously producing as well as fighting a few pests with this mild to warm winter weather.

The group of vegetables called “Cole” crops refers to any of various plants belonging to the Cruciferae or mustard family. Even though you might not be familiar with the impressive scientific name, Cruciferae, or enjoy eating mustard, you are certainly familiar with other members of this family which can furnish Texas gardeners with an abundance of produce during the winter months.

These Cole/cruciferous/mustard family vegetables include cool season crops such as Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips, and watercress. My gardening friend Virginia said her turnips are doing incredibly well and another gardener Margie told me her mustard greens are having their best year ever.

This group of crops enjoy cool seasons and are fairly cold tolerant. Cauliflower and chard are more sensitive to cold than broccoli, collards, kale, kohlrabi, or mustard. Cabbage can withstand freezing temperatures down to 20 degrees or even 15 degrees F. However, for these plants to achieve maximum cold tolerance, they need conditioning.

The conditioning of the plants is influenced by weather conditions prior to the onset of extreme cold temperatures. This developed tolerance certainly determines plant survival. Just as much, the maturity of the plant also has much to do with the amount of cold which Cole crops can survive. When broccoli plants have produced buds and are ready to harvest, even a light frost may cause considerable damage since clusters freeze, turn brown and then rot.

Cole crops grow best at a monthly mean temperature of 60 to 70 degrees F. This occurs when temperatures are 80 degrees F. or less during the day and 60 degrees F. or less at night. In most parts of Texas these ranges occur in October- November.

To produce the best quality of the slower maturing Cole crops, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli should be planted in gardens in late summer– think late August or September. In those months these crops can be directly seeded or transplanted into the garden area.

Faster maturing Cole crops such as collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, and turnips can be directly seeded into the garden as late as September or October.

Pest problems are normally not that extreme, although there are a few insects and several caterpillars that take advantage of mild to warm winter days to feed on these crops. Aphids, some beetles, the Harlequin bug can feed on them. The caterpillars, however, are the more frequent insect that I hear about. Caterpillar types include the Cabbage looper, Cabbage Webworm, Cross-striped cabbageworm, and the Diamondback moth caterpillars.

Control of these pests is no different than how you control warm weather bugs. Follow the label and observe any post-harvest intervals.

Lastly, those who grow Cole crops are investing in a healthy life. Home gardeners are in the business of producing health foods even though they may not know it. Not only are they continuing their outdoor exercise by caring for their garden in the short, colder days of winter, but their fresh harvest of vegetables contain an abundance of top nutrition.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu.

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, national origin, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

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