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Organic Gardening with Sue Robishaw

Cabbage ~ Broccoli ~ Brussels Sprouts

cole plants and glads

Four decades of Growing Good Food in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
~ ~ ~
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

The cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc.) are made for the cold season gardener. They can be easy to grow and they don't mind frosts -- my kind of garden crop!

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August 27, 2021 -- Ferments in the Root Cellar         

I plan my garden to have fresh corn through late summer/early fall; to have cabbages ripen in the fall when the root cellar would have started cooling down so the sauerkraut would ferment nice and slow and last longer; to have winter squash ripen just as light frosts arrive in the fall to wilt the leaves and start the fruit curing. Sometimes it even works out that way! But this year nature took a few different turns. When we started getting rain toward the end of June (after 6 wks of abnormal dry heat) the reluctant gardens went into ripe cabbages and zinnias in gardendouble time. At the Farmers Market we wondered in amazement at overgrown cabbages and squash plants, compared tall corn heights - way beyond "knee high by the 4th of July. And wondered what are we going to do with winter squash ripening already. Wednesday two vendors had ripe pumpkins on their tables already. The rain hasn't been overwhelming but the garden growth is showing great abundance. A summer of 80 degree temperatures does have some advantagesred cabbage kraut quart jar! It's just something we've not been used to.

So this year my two plantings of sweet corn ripened fast and are now dried and in jars with just a few second ears left for fresh eating. The first red cabbages wouldn't wait any longer so there are two batches of beautiful kraut fermenting in the cellar. Thankfully the early green ones aren't ready yet.

We're eating our first jar of fermented dill pickles so I'll be getting another jar started soon. Jars of canned vinegar pickles are starting to fill the shelves. I enjoy fermenting season and we enjoy eating the results but since we have limited refrigeration space to keep the finished product I normally depend on the cooler fall root cellar to keep things from proceeding too fast (we can only eat so much kraut at one time!). I'm just hoping some coming cooler weather will slow down the cabbages so I can wait awhile before having to harvest them.

Meantime it appears the winter squash has overdone itself with not only record large plants but record number of good sized beautiful orange fruit hidden amongst the big green leaves. They have simply loved the weather this year. Good thing we like squash.

Even the apples are coming through with a handful of fruit whose blossoms had escaped the late May freezes. On a year like this with so little fruit one truly notices and appreciates each and every one that comes our way.

But lest it sounds like I'm spending all my time in the garden and kitchen, I'm not. Though I enjoy that time there has also been a lot of hours spent recreating -- boating, biking (Steve), hiking, walking the beaches of both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and just plain enjoying being outside in the summer air. We truly are having a beautiful summer and appreciating it a lot.  

November 13, 2019 -- The Last Krauts

green sauerkraut in jarsA blustery, wintery blowing snow day. Though it didn't add very many inches to the snow on the ground it did keep us from driving north to play old-time music with friends at Falling Rock Cafe. in Munising. Since they recently had gotten 20-24 inches we decided to play music at home instead. But it also seemed like a good day to transfer the most recent batch of sauerkraut (#4), made two weeks ago, into jars. This one was made with just green cabbage, some apple and caraway seed. It has a real nice, mild flavor which I like. It will develop a stronger "kraut" flavor with time though. We're eating red-green kraut #2 right now (made end of August) but I dipped into #3, all green, to see how it was doing. Very nice, mild, gentle texture. The onion flavor I'd noticed earlier has mellowed andcabbages in sink it's very good eaten straight, not mixed in salad or dinner.

Since the busy crock was now empty I sliced up the last of the cabbages, picked a month ago before the temps dropped and stored in the root cellar. They were all small, two red & one green, but together made a nice batch of kraut. I decided to again go with just some apple and caraway seed (and salt, of course). So I think we now have enough sauerkraut to get us through the winter. Actually, I don't know how long it will last nor how much we will eat so it will be interesting to see how that turns out. Meantime we're enjoying the extra taste and crunch in our salads and additional flavor to potato dishes. The jars are pretty in the root cellar as well!

September 16, 2019 -- Colorful Sauerkraut

I don't remember the last time I made sauerkraut - it's been many years, decades really. It's not that we didn't like it; we just didn't eat that much and that really nice 10 gallon crock that Steve's Mom had given us so long ago always tempted me to make way more than we needed. So it was one of those things that just went by the wayside. But this year the "Fermented Vegetables" book turned my thoughts to sauerkraut once again. That and some really good homemade kraut we had at a friend's house. So at the last minute I picked up some seed and planted a row of red and green cabbages. 

They grew well, thankfully at varied rates, and the first of September I realized a nice head ofred kraut mixed red cabbage was mature and starting to crack. I had a small crock (a repurposed crockpot that Steve had strippkraut mix in crocked of its outer shell and wire) and I did something I seldom do - I got out the book and followed their directions and recipe for Red Kraut, with apple, onion and caraway seed. I also included shredded carrot which added some nice color to the mix, and we have a lot of carrots this year. Being a small batch (one 3# cabbage) it didn't take long to slice and shred and mix. It was particularly satisfying for some reason to get my (very clean) hands in there and knead in the salt.

I let it ferment for two weeks, tasting and checking it now and then and finally deciding it was ready. It sure turned out pretty! But even nicer, we liked it, much better than anything I had red kraut in jarsmade before. It adds a particularly nice flavorful crunch to our luncheon salads.

The timing was good because just as the crock was emptied and washed there were three more cabbages mature and ready out in the garden, two green and one red. So a new batch is fermenting in the root cellar now, this time with carrot, onion, and fresh oregano. I wonder how it would be to add some shredded rutabaga to the mix? Mmmm, I can see how one could get quite carried away with the possibilities. Good thing I only have one small crock.

brussels sprouts in root cellar

BRUSSELS SPROUTS -- Plant some extra Brussels Sprouts in the garden and in late fall before hard winter sets in dig up several plants and 'transplant' them into 5 gal buckets. Just loosen the roots with a fork, pull up and put them in the pail. Fill over the roots with damp sand. Set them in a cool but not freezing cellar or similar place and you can harvest "fresh" sprouts long after the garden Brussels are frozen solid. Keep the sand damp but not soggy.


2005 - 2008

flowering broccoli    After many, many years of dedication and contentment with the venerable open pollinated DeCicco Broccoli, I've discovered a new love. Not that there is anything wrong with DeCicco; it's a very good variety--reliable and it continues to set many smaller heads/shoots after the main one is harvested. But this year I discovered Piracicaba (from Fedco Seeds). It's a little earlier than DeCicco, is larger, and is healthy and productive. But its main joy, for me, is its loose heads, which makes it easy to spot cabbage worms -- both for me and the birds (though I find that the birds seldom miss any). It continues to produce after frosts, and even after it flowers and starts setting seed. Which, unfortunately for this seed saver, takes a fairly long growing season to mature so my seed crop is sparse. I keep trying though, in case it is dropped by Fedco. Good flavor, too, and holds up well after many freezes. I'd hate to lose it.

brussels sprouts close    I keep looking for a good, open pollinated Brussels Sprouts and I think I've found one in Roodnorf. It did a bit better for me than Groninger, which I also like. The purple Falstaff, though pretty, seldom makes it past the "cute small sprouts" stage, even when planted earlier. It also doesn't hold up to freezing very well, so guess I'll stick with the green ones. We don't start eating the Brussels Sprouts till after the frosts and freezes have set in and the Broccoli is gone or too whimpy from being frozen, usually in November/December. I guess you could call it "fresh frozen" food. The sprouts are easier to snap off when frozen, too, the tiny cabbages just pop right off.

    It was interesting, in a rather disconcerting and could be worrisome way if I was apt to give in to worrying (which I avoid) that this summer (2008) we had a marked decrease in birds around the homestead, and in the garden. It is probably just the usual, and natural, trend as the number had been increasing to a pretty good crowd. But fewer birds meant a little less joy and a lot more cabbage worms. I've always appreciated greatly the birds' contribution to the success, and ease, in my garden but even more so when they weren't there. The Chipping Sparrows that did come back, and the others, did a great job as they could but I certainly had more worm damage than I'd had in years. The interesting thing was, though, that we had no less of a crop. Though I didn't do anything special. The Brussels Sprouts leaves sure wouldn't have made it onto the cover of any gardening magazine, yet I harvested the usual small basket of little heads from each plant. Maybe there were more nibbles in the sprouts than usual, but nothing serious. And I had to pick off a few more worms from the Broccoli, which didn't affect our enjoyment of the many, many meals we were provided. And they went on to provide a generous array of yellow flowers for late harvest by the many bees. I found that a few more holes in the leaves didn't seem to bother anyone, including the plants.

    I don't do much with flowers in my garden, but for years I've grown Glads or Lavatera (what a riot these outrageously pink flowers are!) down the center of my Cole bed, with a row of Broccoli and/or Brussels Sprouts on either side. They do well together and are a bright spot in the garden.


    BROCCOLI did well this year in spite of the hot, hot July and August. At least those that made it past the cutworms (note -- use TALL cardboard collars! These guys simply stood on end and ate the stems off above my regular collars). And the root maggots. I hadn’t had that problem for many years and had gotten quite lax about putting wood ashes around the roots when transplanting, and around the plants thereafter. So, another note -- use wood ashes! It isn’t as if it’s even that much of a job. But, how easily we forget past problems.


    As might be expected, the BROCCOLI was so-so in the heat, being a cooler weather lover. Though May was cold and wet, it warmed up in June so things grew well. Then, after a couple of light frosts the first of July, it turned hot and humid into August. But in spite of the weather challenges, the garden provided us with good food. The CABBAGE grew fine and fast, and split fast. The Marner Allfroh was the worst and much of it ended up in the compost pile. Primo not only had smaller heads (which suits us better) but split less. Red Drumhead had little trouble with splitting, with nice small heads as well. The cabbage worms and loopers loved the weather. I haven’t had that much worm damage in years. Interesting though, I seldom saw the worms. But the birds were constantly in the patch (particularly the wonderful Chipping Sparrows). They got my thanks often, though I know that is not their reason for being there! To discourage the worms, I tried sage leaves strewn over the plants, but that didn’t seem to have any affect. Then I tried flour dusted on in the morning dew. That did seem to help, but was a bit of a mess. The birds were definitely tops for worm control.

Copyright Susan Robishaw

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.