Somewhere along the way, growing cauliflower and broccoli lost its thrill for many an Alaska gardener. For a while, back in the "old" days, it was almost all any of us grew. I am exaggerating, but not by much. Cabbage was the main crop in most vegetable gardens. Growing it became a cliche. I suspect more slugs and moose ate it than humans did.
I don't know if it was the slug invasions of the '80s or the fact most kids don't like eating cabbages, but they fell out of favor. They seem to be coming back, however, as both their health value and ease of care are again becoming appreciated. It doesn't hurt that there are new varieties all the time.
This is the weekend in Southcentral to plant a few cabbages. I should say start to stagger planting these over the course of a couple of weeks. Plant them all this weekend if you want them all to ripen at the same time. Just follow the directions on the package, and you can't go wrong. Cabbages don't support mychorrizal fungi, so don't waste any on their roots.
These are quick growers. If you want your kids to eat some, why not have them help you grow it? Similarly, broccoli, and I do mean similarly: Don't plant it all at once as you will have to eat it all at once. Here, however, you could spread out starting seeds over a three-, four- and even five-week period as sometimes plants will produce after a frost or two (and frosts have been coming later in the season). It is best to plant broccoli in cell packs as you can care for them more easily if they are all nice and compact and together.
Cauliflower too can be started, staggered over a period of a couple of weeks, in just the same way as cabbage and broccoli. Again, there are all sorts of new varieties to try. Hey, why not?
Your task is to find something on a seed rack that the nursery isn't growing so yours doesn't become a boring, 1970s cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower garden. It is easy to see what your favorite nurseries are offering by just wandering around this weekend and looking.
Next, it is time to take a good look around, outside that is, to survey winter storm damage. We had a couple of really bad winds blow through back there in the dark days of last fall. It was easy to get the downed trees, but much more difficult to deal with the stuff way up. In a couple of weeks, these will be covered in little, squirrel-ear sized leaves and you won't have good vantage to spot danger limbs and branches. You might want to take a camera and get pictures so you know where to work if you don't plan to fix things until after leaf out.
Next, it is important that you thin out seeds which have already germinated and started on their summer voyage. Pluck, cut, snip or whatever you need to do to ensure that each remaining seedling has enough room to grow and thrive before being transplanted outdoors. As for plants in individual containers, remember there is a balance between root size and how much soil and therefore water you need to have to grow a plant properly. Do not grow tiny plants in huge pots as these will usually drown.
All plants grown indoors do better with a hit of mycorrhizal fungi, as far as I am concerned. The only exception are the cole crops, some mentioned above. Get the appropriate type from a favorite nursery and make sure it comes in contact with roots when you transplant. Seeds, too, can be rolled in the stuff to help plants get a good head start forming mycorrhizae, the relationship between fungi and plant roots wherein each helps feed the other.
Finally, a warning about buying plants from here on in. You are growing seeds and seedlings. All plants from outside that environment, even those grown by friends, should be suspected of carrying disease and bugs. Isolate what you are given and what you buy until you can make sure it is safe to mingle with your other plants.
Jeff Lowenfels is the author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to The Soil Food Web."
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