Kale is a popular vegetable these days. Everywhere you go, people are clucking about how good it is for you. I see it in salads in restaurants and who doesn’t like a little kale mixed in with their smoothies?
Cabbage and broccoli? Close cousins of kale, they are quite good for you, too. Oh and don’t forget one of the best of the family, cauliflower. I do love cauliflower.
They are all cole crops, as some old-timers refer to them. No, not cool crops, though they do grow best in cool weather, but cole crops. And they are good for you.
But have you ever grown them in your vegetable garden?
I have. At least, I’ve attempted to grow cabbage and broccoli. And let me tell you, they are a magnet for cabbageworms, those little green caterpillars that eat anything “cole” in your garden.
I don’t care how good of a gardener you are, if you plant kale, cabbage, cauliflower, or broccoli, soon enough, lovely little white cabbage butterflies show up.
At first you think how sweet it is to see lovely little white butterflies flitting from cabbage to broccoli, from broccoli to kale, and then swooping over to the cauliflower. But then those white butterflies lay eggs around the base of the cole crops and those tiny little eggs hatch into little green worms and then before you can say the gardener’s cuss word, frass, those little green worms are eating your cole crops.
It happens every year. By the way, those white butterflies weren’t always here in North America flitting about our cole crops. They are actually from Europe and somehow found there way over to this side of the pond in the mid 1800s.
Growing cole crops hasn’t been the same since then.
So what should you do to get rid of the little green worms, the cabbageworms?
Well, back in the day, my dad used to dust a little something-something on the plants to kill the cabbageworms. But even doing that, I remember we still had to soak the broccoli in salt water and skim off the cabbageworms as they floated up to the surface. Then we’d still pick ever so carefully through the cooked broccoli, just in case one of those cabbageworms actually ended up being boiled to death and showed up on our dinner plate. And there was always one unlucky worm and one unlucky kid.
Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
If you insist on growing cole crops, you can cover them with row covers to keep the white cabbage butterflies from finding them and laying eggs at the base of the plants. I don’t find row covers to be particularly attractive but if you are intent on growing cole crops, row covers are a good option.
You can also watch the cole crops for the first signs of cabbageworms and then hand pick them off and feed them to the birds. I guarantee, though, you’ll never find them all.
Or you can do what I do and that is don’t show up for the Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Broccoli Club.
That’s right. I don’t grow kale, cabbage, cauliflower, or broccoli in my garden because I don’t want to mess with the cabbageworms. Does that make me a coward? Perhaps, though the worms don’t scare me. I think it just shows I’m a smart gardener who has decided to get her protein from something other then cooked cabbageworms.
Though, if it adds a little extra protein in my smoothie? Maybe I will try to grow some kale. I’ll need some row covers…
Yes, there's no rule that says you have to grow every kind of vegetable you could grow.
I agree, you don't need to grow every veggie. I have tried cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts in the past. The sprouts were fun, because of how they grow.
Cindy, MCOK says
No cabbageworm smoothies here, thank you!
You are a kindred spirit, Carol:) I remember my mother always grew broccoli, and I'd watch her pick out all those little worms after soaking the broccoli in salt water. Sometimes she'd make me do it–ick!! I tried growing broccoli a couple of years, but soon gave up. I'll just get my nice green, critter-less broccoli from the supermarket, thank you. I have grown kale the last couple of years, though, and never have had any problems with worms attacking it. Or so I thought…gulp:(
So how do commercial growers – organic especially – keep their broccoli worm free??
Carol Michel says
Organic growers often use row covers to keep the butterflies away.
I had the loveliest purple cabbage last year and yes, there were holes. BT is organic and does work. I am just not very good at applying chemicals. It needs to be a regimen. I did find that the mosquito unit which we bought did attract the cabbage moths but it also caught a lunar moth which I did save. A lunar moth is just gorgeous.
David Hamlin says
Ha, I'm right there with you! I leave the broccoli and cauliflower growing to the professionals and stick to growing the things I'm good at. No point in doing something I know is only going to frustrate me!
I grew purple sprouting broccoli uncovered, blithely, in my first year of gardening: it was eaten to shreds.
However, I've heard (and anecdotally seen) that kale seems to survive better. Whether you'd then want to eat a brassica that even cabbage-white larvae turn their tiny wee noses up at is another matter entirely!
Dee Nash says
I can grow kale here, but not the other brassicas so well. Our early summers make that hard. The kale last fall had a tough time with the caterpillars although they didn't like the curly kale as much as the dino type.
Very funny post Carol.~~Dee
Lisa at Greenbow says
I don't like smoothies. I don't grow cole crops. I enjoy picking them from the produce section for just the reasons you put forth here.
I've attempted them lots of times and don't have trouble with kale but broccoli and cauliflower are always a long shot in my garden and cabbage is a magnet for slugs. I believe in growing things that make us happy! If veggies from the cabbage family don't bring you joy than let them go! Can you tell that I've been reading Marie Kondo's book?
Linda Lehmusvirta says
This is positively delightful!
I gave up growing broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower years ago. If it wasn't the cabbage white caterpillars, it would be pigeons feasting on my crops. I tried scarecrows, dangling cds on strings, netting and flapping my arms around, but it didn't help. This year, I am returning to the world of brassicas with red cabbages and brussels sprouts. Expect tears.
Jenny Williams says
Jenny – Artificial Grass Birmingham