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Alas, poor brassicas

This is a sad story. And like most tales of woe, it came about through a combination of bad luck and fatal error.

April 28, 2021: aftermath of a tragedy

I grew some lovely spring greens this year: kale, Chinese cabbage, quick-growing loose-head cauliflower and broccoli. The seedlings were perfect; I hardened them off outdoors and then planted them in my community garden plot, covering them with medium-weight row cover over hoops partly to keep them warm against colder nights and partly to keep off insect pests, since I’d already seen cabbage white butterflies flying around. The row cover was held down to the ground with bricks and stones – I thought securely.

Then, about two weeks ago, we had a dual weather event: first, very high winds; then a cold snap, where the temperatures dropped below freezing. I didn’t manage to get to my plot until after all that was over, and I found… disaster. The row cover had blown off, and the plants were brown, with frozen, translucent leaves, nearly dead. Some of them were still green in the middle, but they’d all been hit hard.

Let’s skip to my final decision, taken the morning of May 5: I pulled them all out and took the hoops and row cover home. (It had blown off again in the latest wind event.) I’d pretty much decided to do that immediately upon seeing the damage, but I figured I had time to decide. Another choice I could have made was to save some of the plants, perhaps transplanting the survivors so they were all together and could be covered as a group. It didn’t seem worth it, especially for the broccoli and cauliflower, which are more sensitive to temperature issues and would likely start bolting when, inevitably, the temperatures shoot up in late May or early June. And even the kale probably wouldn’t have given me much before going to flower. If I had a large garden, it might have been reasonable to give the surviving plants a try, but space is at a premium in my 400 square foot plot, so pulling out the brassicas means that I have a chance to grow a summer crop I wouldn’t otherwise have managed. Okra, I’m thinking.

So clearly Master Gardeners have garden mishaps too; I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but I am going to use the experience as an educational tool. What went wrong here? Some elements of the disaster:

These are all accidents, unavoidable circumstances, or minor mistakes. Here’s the big error, though, where I neglected to take my own advice. One of the mantras I repeat to gardeners when I give talks is: BE IN YOUR GARDEN. And yes, it’s harder when your garden is a car ride away rather than in your backyard. I still should have been there, checking to make sure the row cover was secure, checking to see if it stayed on, giving my plants some extra water, protecting them. And I wasn’t.

So, lesson learned. Again. I have seeds left over and I’ll try again in the fall. Meanwhile, here’s a memory of these plants in happier times, before they were exposed to the cold hard outdoors:

So pretty! I miss them. But hey: okra.

By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener. Read more posts by Erica.

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