By Jolene Renfro
Even though it is 100 degrees outside, it is time to start thinking about planting cold-season plants such as cabbage, kale, and kohlrabi. Most of the plants in the garden have accepted August and are hunkered down (like we are) waiting for cooler weather and rain to perk back up, but we have to think beyond what is happening now and optimistically plan for the future.
Members of the Brassicas (mustard) Family---cabbage, kale and kohlrabi (commonly called Cole crops) are being written about together because they share many planting requirements. They are also nutritious to eat, containing high levels of Vitamins A, B6, and C, in addition to having more protein than milk, lots of thiamin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese all packed in a fiber rich bundle. Gardeners often overlook planting these easy-to-grow crops because they are unsure how to cook them, so I have included a few easy recipes for their preparation.
So why have a column on cold-season plants in August? If you are going to plant seeds, the seeds need to be started indoors by August 15 and put in the garden about six weeks later; if you are going to buy sets at the nursery, they need to be planted in the garden by October 15. So even though it is very hot outside, August is the month to plan for cold-season planting.
Cabbage is probably the most familiar of the three plants and there are many recipes available to prepare this old stand-by. Cabbage that matures in cool weather is especially delicious to eat, and with fewer bugs and more abundant rain in the fall, it takes less effort to grow cabbage in the fall than when it is planted in the spring. Cole crops do best if day temperatures are between 55-70 degrees and night temperatures are in the 50s. Lower temperatures just slows growth, but does not damage the plant. In addition to the traditional red and Dutch cabbages, Napa Cabbage (Chinese cabbage) is good to plant because it tolerates the wide temperature swings of fall.
Plant the cabbage sets 24 inches apart in a fertile, well-drained, but moist soil, with plenty of organic matter. The pH should be about 6.5-6.8 for optimum growth. Work nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure into the soil, or use a timed-release fertilizer such as 14-14-14. Water regularly, applying 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week if it doesn’t rain. Plants should get 6 hours of sun a day.
Keep an eye out for cabbage loopers, slugs, and aphids and treat as needed. Avoid planting cabbage or other Cole crops in the same spot each year to prevent the build-up of plant diseases specific to this family of plants.
Harvest the cabbage when the head feels firm when squeezed. Cabbage can be kept several weeks in the refrigerator until you are ready to prepare it for the table. Here are a few ways to enjoy cabbage:
Southern Fried Cabbage
— Brown 4 slices of bacon that have been cut up into smaller pieces
— In this grease, place shredded head of cabbage and 1 sliced onion
— Cook slowly for about 30 minutes
– Shred 1 head of cabbage and 4 carrots
— Mix 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of sugar into the cabbage
— Shred together 1 head of cabbage, 1 bell pepper, 2 green onions, and 2 carrots and set aside
— Bring to a boil- ¾ cup white vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon celery seeds, 2 or 3 tablespoons prepared mustard, ½ teaspoon garlic powder
– Then add to this liquid – 2/3 cup vegetable oil, ½ cup white sugar, and black pepper to taste
– Pour mixture over shredded vegetables and stir.
Think of kale as cabbage with ruffles. Because of its attractive coloration, kale belongs in the flower garden as well as the vegetable garden. Apply the same rules for cultivation as you did for cabbage with one difference—at harvest time, do not pull up the entire plant, instead pick the outside leaves leaving about 4 leaves intact so that the plant will continue to produce new leaves and of course, smaller leaves are more tender than the larger, older ones. Kale will keep several days in the refrigerator produce drawer.
Some good varieties to grow are Red Russian, Winterbor, or other Scotch-type kale. Here are some ways to cook your kale:
– Wash leaves and pat dry. Spread on a cooking tray, spray with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook in oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
— In 2 tablespoons of olive oil sauté 2 cloves chopped garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, 1 ½ lbs. chopped kale, ½ cup of chicken stock or vegetable stock or water, and cover for 5 minutes. Take cover off, cook to reduce liquid and add salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
Other Uses for Kale
– Use kale in salad, quiche, and lasagna the same as you would use spinach.
Looking like the vegetable from outer space, kohlrabi, like its other relatives, can be green or purple in color. The name kohlrabi is German for “cabbage turnip” and though the leaves are eatable, the stem is the part of the plant that is most often used, and tastes somewhat like a broccoli stem. Gigante is the preferred variety for fall planting, even though it takes longer to mature. Also recommended is Early White Vienna.
The only difference in planting requirements for this plant (compared to its cousins) is that you plant kohlrabi about 9-12 inches apart, and stagger the planting every two to three weeks to lengthen the harvest. The plant is ready to eat when the stem is 1 inch to 3 inches in diameter---any larger and the stem will be too old and too tough and will not have the mild, sweet flavor you want. Always peel off the outermost layer with a vegetable peeler before using kohlrabi in any recipe.
When picked, kohlrabi will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks in the produce drawer. Here are some ways to prepare your little Sputnik-looking vegetable:
— Slice thin and eat in a salad with your favorite dressing
— Shred and mix the slivers with egg and flour. Drop balls of mixture in oil or butter, flatten with a spatula and fry.
— Brown fritters on both sides and drain on a paper towel.
— Slice into chips and roast in oven for a hardy side dish.
— Slice into chips, steam, and then add to pasta dishes or cream soups like potato or mushroom
So even though it is 100 degrees outside, try to think cool, and plant cabbage, kale and kohlrabi this August, for some good eating next fall.
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