Growing cole crops without pesticides

Tired of bugs in your broccoli? It’s possible to grow it bug-free without pesticides.

If you have ever grown cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and collards, I am sure you are familiar with the pests that make these crops a bit of a challenge to grow. Rabbits and deer love to munch on newly planted crops and these are among their favorites. It is also extremely frustrating to see a parade of other pests such as slugs, imported cabbage worms and cabbage loopers eating holes in the leaves and turning it into secondhand produce. There is nothing less appetizing than to see small, green worms steamed to perfection with freshly harvested broccoli, even though it was soaked before cooking in salt water as recommended.

Due to the “ick” factor, many people are turned off and just give up trying to grow cole crops because of the choice between weekly pesticide sprays versus broccoli with meat included. Maybe the options above are the real reason George H. Bush did not care for broccoli, so he states in his famous quote, “I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.” (In response, broccoli growers sent 10 tons of the vegetables to the White House.) If you are a broccoli or other cole crops fan, there is good news. It is possible to grow them without the use of any pesticides. Here are my secrets.

Start with healthy plants. If they don’t look quite right at the garden center, then don’t bring them home no matter how good the deal is. Examine the plants closely for off colors, dead areas on leaves and the presence of insects.

After planting, put a collar around each seedling to prevent cutworms from chewing the stems. I prefer small, tin cans or paper cups with the bottoms removed. Styrofoam will work well, also. Most of the time, cutworms will clip a few plants, but to me even one is unacceptable since I paid for the plants. This is only necessary for the early planting. By mid-June they are less of a problem.

Mulch with newspaper at least six pages thick and then cover with a thick layer of clean straw. This will eliminate the need for much weeding. Cover the plants with a floating row cover that is wide enough to accommodate growth. The cover can be held in place using small stones. As the plants grow larger, the cover must not be lifted off the ground, especially at the row’s end, otherwise the butterflies and moths responsible for imported cabbage worm and cabbage looper larvae will get under the cover and lay eggs.  Sunlight and water will be able to penetrate through the cover, so all you will need to do is check the plants occasionally and fertilize according to soil test recommendations.

If slugs are a problem in the garden, sprinkle some fresh coffee grounds in the mulch after planting. There is no specific recommendation as to amount, but I used about 1 cup per 25 feet of row. The slugs will eat the grounds and the caffeine in them will kill the slugs. Most coffee shops are all too happy to give you used grounds. They will work also.

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