The Garden Patch: Spelling out the ABCs of growing vegetables

Going down the alphabet, we’ve looked a quite a few vegetables that we grow in our gardens in the past few weeks! Let’s continue with …

Cauliflower

This cool-season vegetable is a close relative of cabbage (which we talked about last week). However, cauliflower takes longer to develop and is not as cold hardy as cabbage and broccoli. Therefore, cauliflower is often considered more difficult to grow. It is also more intolerant of summer heat and drought.

112413-cauliflowerheadVarieties. Choose early maturing varieties such as Snow Crown, Early Snowball or related varieties. Later maturing varieties (including the self-blanch types) usually take too long for our shortened spring and fall seasons.

When to plant. Set transplants in early to mid-April for a spring crop or in early August for a fall crop. Cauliflower is difficult to direct seed most years in Kansas.

Spacing. Space plants 1 1/2 feet apart in rows at least 3 feet apart. The plant is larger than cabbage or broccoli and needs more space.

Care. Use starter fertilizer when setting plants and provide additional fertilizer every two to three weeks during the growing season. Provide water during dry periods. When the heads are about the size of a quarter, blanch them by pulling a few leaves over the head to shade them from the hot sun. Secure the leaves with a rubber band, clothespin or string. Check the development of the head by peeking through the leaves.

Harvesting. Cut heads when they are fully formed but before they are over mature as indicated by a rough, spiny appearance of the curds. This condition – called riciness – indicates that the head will be strong flavored and tough. In cool conditions a slight purplish color may prevail in the heads and is normal. Some varieties also may produce a few leaves that will protrude through the head. Store cauliflower in a cold, moist location for two to three weeks.

Common concerns. Cabbage worms and aphids.

Chinese cabbage

This relative of cabbage is sometimes known as celery cabbage, wong bok or bok choi. It is an old Oriental crop that is popular in Oriental and stir-fry cooking.

112413-chinescabbageVarieties. The heading types of Chinese cabbage form heads that may be blocky to elongated in shape depending on the variety. Elongated types include rocket and michili. Medium shaped heads include Jade Pagoda, while blocky, short headed types include China Pride, Early Hybrid G and WR60. Non-heading types include pak choy varieties and are harvested for their white leaf stalks with bright green leaves.

When to plant. Chinese cabbage is difficult to plant in the spring because of a tendency for transplanted crops to bolt or go to seed. Select small, stocky plants and set them in early to mid-April or direct seed by planting them in the garden at the same time. Fall is an excellent season for growing Chinese cabbage in Kansas. Direct seed in early to mid-July or transplant in early August.

Spacing. Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart in rows two to three feet apart. If you are direct seeding, plant seeds about ½ inch deep.

Care. Like its cabbage family relatives, Chinese cabbage needs a starter fertilizer at transplanting and regular fertilizing every two to three weeks during the growing season. Critical periods when water is necessary are during head formation and enlargement.

Harvesting. Heads of Chinese cabbage will be looser than regular cabbage. Feel through the dense leaves for the head and cut it when the head has a distinct shape. The tender inner leaves may be used as a salad green. Once seed stalks start to appear all head development ceases. If bolting occurs, harvest and salvage what you can of the crop.

Common concerns. Cabbage worms and aphids.

Cucumber

Cucumbers are warm season crops that have traditionally required a lot of garden space. With a trellis and newer, compact varieties cucumbers may be grown in small spaces and even containers.

112413-cucumberVarieties. Slicing cucumbers are long and slender with a dark green skin. Improved new hybrid varieties include Dasher, Sprint, Raider, Burpee Hy and Marketmore. Sweet Slice is a long, mild flavored variety as is Sweet Success. Pickling varieties are short and blocky in shape with a firm flesh that makes a crisp pickle. Spartan Dawn, Liberty, Pioneer and SMR-8 are suggested varieties. Burpless – soft mild flavored types – include Burpless Hy as well as Patio Pik, Bush Pickle and Spacemaster. Another novelty variety, Lemon, produces round yellow fruit resembling a lemon.

When to plant. Cucumbers require warm conditions with no danger of frost for best results. Soil temperatures should be around 60 degrees F, which occurs in early May in most of Kansas. Using black plastic mulch to warm soil is a way of producing cucumbers earlier.

Spacing. Cucumbers are usually spaced 2 feet apart in rows 5 to 6 feet apart. However – new dwarf types may be grown in 3-foot rows with plants 2 feet apart.

Cucumbers may be transplanted by starting seeds in large containers and moving them carefully to the garden area.

Care. Cucumbers are fairly shallow rooted and require caution at initial cultivation. One application of fertilizer along the row when the vines are 6 to 12 inches long will improve production into the bearing season. Cucumbers can be grown on a fence or in a cage, but you may have to help the vines to start growing up the trellis. Avoid areas where strong winds may damage the vines (in Kansas?), because cucumbers on a trellis are much more subject to injury than tomatoes. Like other members of the vine crop family (muskmelon, watermelon, pumpkin, squash and gourds) cucumbers have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Male flowers predominate and usually appear before female flowers start to develop. Many newer cucumber varieties are of the gynoecia type or have a larger number of female flowers for higher yields. Bees are required to transfer pollen from male to female flowers for the fruit to develop.

Harvesting. Select firm, dark colored cucumbers developed before the seeds have a hard seed coat and while the skin is tender. Small cucumbers may be harvested for pickles at any stage. Removing large, overgrown fruits will deep the vines produce longer.

Common concerns. Cucumber beetles (transmit bacterial wilt) and powdery mildew.

That’s it for this time, folks! Thank you for reading! The boss sez 1,000 words a week and this week I got out of control and went over budget. Thanks for sticking with us! Till next week!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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