Step-by-step: Planting broccoli and cabbage

Remember how I did a reader survey a few months ago? Well, one of the responses suggested I include more step-by-step gardening instructions in my posts. That's a great idea, so here we go...

Today's step-by-step is on planting broccoli and cabbage. Because they are members of the Brassica family (also known as cole crops), they can have problems with three annoying types of insects: aphids, cabbage loopers and slugs. In case you were unsure, cabbage loopers are the larvae of the cabbage butterfly and are those small green inchworms that make the plants' leaves look like Swiss cheese. Slugs will do that, too.

After I planted my seedlings, which need 12-18" of spacing, I watered them in really well to keep them from going into shock. Next, I decided to address the slug issue by sprinkling diatomaceous earth (that's what's in the bag to the left) around each plant. What in the world is diatomaceous earth, you ask? Well, it's a little hard to explain but it's the fossilized remains of ancient marine plants that is made into a powder. While it feels like handling flour to you and me, any creatures with soft skins like slugs find it to be an irritant, especially since it contains tiny, sharp edges.

I decided to use an empty soup can to place over a plant, sprinkle a circle of diatomaceous earth around the can, move the can to the next plant, and so on. I'm hoping it will help keep away those slimy slugs!

To address the aphid and cabbage looper issue, I put hoops over the planting bed (we made them out of leftover 1/2" flexible black sprinkler pipe) and then placed a floating row cover over the whole bed. These covers are lightweight and will let in air, light and moisture while acting as a physical barrier to keep insects off the plants.

I'm hoping to change to a different type of cover as soon as I have time to make one. A dear friend of mine experimented a couple years ago by making a cover out of the fabric called "tulle." While the name might sound unfamiliar, you've probably seen it hundreds of times because it's the netting that bridal veils are made out of!

Anyway, I like the ideal of using tulle for a cover because you would more easily be able to see what's going on under the row cover (like, "is the cabbage ready to harvest or is it ready to burst," which they'll do in the summer sun; OR, "are slugs eating the cabbage plants?" Important sorts of things like that.) and also provide a better air flow while keeping the creepy-crawlies out. So that's on my list of things-to-do. I have the fabric, just haven't made the cover yet, but wanted to let you know about this idea.

So now my little broccoli and cabbage seedlings are on their own and hopefully will grow beautifully and provide us with lots of tasty goodness. Stay tuned...