Beyond Broccoli Part Two: What’s Up with Brassicas?

Welcome back to Beyond Broccoli! Last month I posted about how the genus Brassica is classified and grouped, and where the plants come from in the world. Now let’s talk about what characteristics the brassicas have in common. Here’s some of what they share as a group:

  • An origin in temperate regions. These species originated in Europe and Asia, and most of them prefer to grow in cooler weather.
  • Thousands of years of cultivation and breeding. They’ve been part of humanity’s diet for a long time, and have great cultural significance in many regions.
  • Some physical similarities. I mentioned the cross-shaped (cruciferous) flower in the last post. Brassica seed leaves (cotyledons) have a characteristic heart shape, and seeds are generally small and round. We’ll explore leaf pigments and other commonalities in later posts.
Seed leaves of mustard
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What to do in the veggie garden in March


It’s almost spring! Almost. Not quite.

March is the month when we can’t wait to get started on the garden. Inevitably, we jump into some tasks too early, and put off others until it’s too late. UME has a factsheet to help us figure out what to do when; this is my take on the changeable not-quite-there-yet month of March. Let’s start with:

Things Not To Do

  • Work your soil. Unless we have a dry March and have had a dry February, turning over soil is just going to compound structural problems. Try this instead: get some compost, spread it an inch or so deep over your beds. When it’s time to plant seeds or put in transplants, you will automatically incorporate the compost while making holes.
  • Step on your soil. Try to keep off the planting beds as much as possible. Wet soil compacts easily. You’ll have bricks later.
  • Plant seeds in wet, cold soil. Peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day; that’s the tradition, right? What if there’s snow on the ground? Or we’ve just had a soaking rain and it’s 40 degrees out? Seeds and tubers are more likely to rot in those conditions than sprout. Get them in the ground during a warmer, drier stretch (which might be before or after the middle of the month; I’d go with after, especially for potatoes). Try pre-sprouting them indoors. Consider using raised beds (more on that below).
  • Start your tomatoes (until later in the month). When I was a newbie seed-starter, I got those tomato seeds going in February – and then I had TREES by the end of April, when it was still too cold to put the plants in the ground. I am now a last-week-of-March tomato starter. Some people wait till April.
  • Put out your seedlings of hardy crops until weather conditions are promising. Cold, they can take, especially with a row cover; hard freezes are going to set them back. Torrential rain and constant wind: also challenging. March is a delightful month.

Things to Do:

  • Fix holes in fences. Or put up fences, though you should have done that last fall when the weather was nicer and you had fewer other things to do.
  • Build some raised beds. Raised beds drain better, warm up faster in spring, minimize soil compaction, and are great for root crops and anything that doesn’t like growing in cold, wet clay.
  • Weed! Winter weeds are thriving out there.
  • Order your seeds if you haven’t done it yet! Organize your seeds in planting order. Make a plan for succession planting.
  • Now that you know what’s going where, set up your trellises.
  • Start seeds for cool-weather crops and for peppers. (It’s no longer February, so let’s have no regrets, but you probably should have started longer-growing brassicas like broccoli already, plus onions, leeks, shallots, artichokes if you are so bold, and the peppers that are not Capsicum annuum. If not, get them in now.)
  • If you have storage space, collect the supplies you’ll need for the spring: mulch, fertilizer, row cover, compost, etc. Minimize the garden center trips during the busy period of April and May.
  • Do some research about the plants you’re growing so you can anticipate problems. Or figure out how to solve the problems you had last year.
  • Meditate on the beautiful garden you’re going to grow.

General advice for March gardening: have some patience, and keep checking the long-term weather forecast. March can be your friend, but it’s not the reliable kind of friend you’d ask to feed your cats or water your seedlings; it’s the friend who shows up at your house uninvited and persuades you to go on a bar crawl or climb a mountain or undertake adventures that may be fun or inspiring but you’re likely to regret the next day. Or not: with March, you never know.


By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener