Scent of a Brassica–An Experiment in Succession Planting

I posted yesterday on the economics of that short row of cabbages in the north central garden.  Most of those cabbages are out now (there are three left–I took out the cabbage-looper mangled one this morning), and only their stumps remain.

Most people probably know that rotting (or even fermenting) brassicas of any type have a most disagreeable and strong odor that is pretty unpleasant to the human nose.  Right now, I’m betting on it also being disagreeable, or at least confusing, to the “nose” (or whatever scent apparatus they possess) of cucumber beetles.

I’d sworn I wasn’t going to put cucurbits–squashes or melons or cukes–of any kind in the main garden areas because the cuke and squash beetle problem there is, well, a problem.  H. tilled up a new garden for me on the hill across the farm for my winter squash, summer squash, and melons, and that has been planted for a few weeks–with no sign of the evil-doers as yet.

But there’s no real space for cukes there, so I’ve had to get a little creative.  The cabbage stumps in the northcentral garden are about eighteen inches apart, and they are sitting in some pretty well-loved soil.  There’s also a row cover already in place there (not that it’s that hard to remove it–though it might be a bit wet and muddy).

I did some research yesterday in my various garden books about a good succession crop to go in after spring cabbages, and it turns out squashes and cukes and melons are some of the best, according to my sources.

So, this morning, I worked up the soil in between the stumps (and also carefully between the remaining cabbages that’ll come out next week), and seeded two kinds of cukes–a hybrid burpless slicer called “Summer Dance,” and the heirloom “National Pickling.”

I put three seeds in between each set of cabbage stumps (or plants) in a furrow in the middle of the row, leaving myself some space on the edge because I’ll likely want to erect some kind of trellis for the cukes once they get bigger.

I also tossed a little bit of soil on top of each stump to encourage it to rot and give off a strong odor, and I might even go back when I harvest the remaining cabbages and hack up the stumps a bit to let in moisture–since my harvest cuts were so clean.

My hope is that the strong odor of brassica rot will mask the odor of young, tender cucumber plants, tricking the cuke beetles into believing there’s nothing under that row cover for them to try to sneak underneath and eat–at least until the cucumber plants get big and strong enough to remove the row cover and trellis them.

The biggest problem in past years has been getting the cuke plants to that strong growing stage–the cuke bugs always find them early (even under the row cover), and both eat and spread disease among the young plants, causing big, and sometimes total, die-offs.

I did have a good year with cukes last year in the lower part of the east garden, which is a good distance (for a bug, at least) away from the north central garden, so I also have distance working for me again. The year before last I tried growing cukes in the west garden and later in the central, and they ALL were killed–even the ones supposedly not as attractive to cuke beetles.

But even in a good year, it’s only a matter of time before the yellow and black stripey devils find them–sometimes we even get the spotted ones, too.  But, if the plants are growing fast and strong, they don’t cause nearly as much damage, and there’s less need for controls that might interfere with pollination or hurt the native bees.

Yet another interesting experiment for my CSA sabbatical year.  I’ll keep posting results here, and with success, bringing the results to the farmers market!

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