This year I really dove into growing brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale) for the first time. I’d attempted broccoli and kale in the past, but they never got more than a few inches tall before succumbing to some mystery insect.
This year I dedicated about 3/4 of one raised bed to brassicas. I purposely put them all together so that I could cover them with row cover and hopefully keep the bugs out.
And the result was… epic failure.
This was the first time I’d attempted to use row cover, and I really didn’t have a good system for keeping it secured. I put a few bricks on the edges here and there, but eventually the wind blew and flung the whole thing off the garden. I didn’t get out and fix it soon enough, and eventually the plants were infested with cabbage worms. When I put the row cover back on, it only served to keep the moths in and further the infestation. When I pulled the row cover off, the moths would all fly out. Yuck.
The cabbage worms devastated the broccoli, cauliflower, the kohlrabi greens and most of the kale. The broccoli and cauliflower were a complete loss. The cauliflower never even got close to forming heads. The broccoli did eventually form small heads which I was excited about, but when I went to harvest them they were disgustingly infested with worms and worm poop. The kohlrabi formed nice bulbs, but the greens were totally unusable. I was able to use some kale early on, but eventually it too was a loss.
Eric from Chert Hollow pointed out that growing broccoli is a pretty inefficient use of space, and after this failure I’m inclined to agree. The plants are big, take a long time to grow, and the only produce one harvest. I could have grown huge amounts of greens or root crops in the amount of space that was taken up by the brassicas. Boo.
After having looked into it a bit more, I know now that using Bt can eliminate cabbage worm problems. If I’m really serious about growing broccoli or cauliflower in the future and I have the space to spare, I may go this route – although I’d rather not spray anything (organic or not) if I can avoid it. I’ve also put in some hoops for a low tunnel that will allow me to secure row cover over a portion of a bed and hopefully keep the miserable moths out.
In the meantime, though, I really have no desire to attempt to grow broccoli or cauliflower ever again.