Transplanting Brassicas

Reader Contribution by Bethann Weick
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Last week, we were a team of
five.  Clad in muddy raingear, hunched
against the persistent showers, we willed our chilled hands to continue pulling
out the long roots of spring weeds.  The
garden beds before us were awaiting brassica starts – a morning’s worth of
weeding ensured an afternoon’s worth of transplanting. 

On this particular morning we
were situated in our upper field, across the logging road from our largest hoop
house.  It wasn’t particularly cold, nor
remarkably windy.  Nevertheless, the rain
was steady and our layers soaked well through despite the mismatched collection
of ponchos, jackets, slickers, and rainpants. 
By midday our hands were stiff and the garden beds threatening to become
mudflats.  We called an end to the
weeding and took lunch.  Our morning’s
work, in combination with other weed-free beds in our eastern field, would
provide enough row footage to spend the afternoon transplanting. 

Slightly more active than
weeding, transplanting proved more manageable in the rain.  Wielding trowels and hori-horis, hundreds of
cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, and kohlrabi went into the ground that
afternoon.  We were able to keep warm as
we moved flat after flat of plants out of our “big coldframe” greenhouse, and
smiled to see our collection of starts freed to the open air and fields of
dirt.  After weeks of careful care, we
now had to trust to biology and climatic good fortune.  With luck, each plant will grow into the
best-case scenario. 

To get to this point in the
season, however, was the result of much indoor seeding work.  Through February and March we seeded
thousands of cold-tolerant plants into flats. 
(Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collards, chard, and
kohlrabi fill our seeding shelves early in the season; warmer crops such as
tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash come later – contact us if you have questions
on seasonal timing!)  These were kept
under lights in our basement and watered every few days.  As seeds germinated, grew sprout leaves, and
slowly developed their true leaves, we monitored them closely.  As they sized up, we moved flats to our cob
animal-house/greenhouse combination building. 
Here plants were introduced to natural daylight and the temperature
fluctuations between day and night.  As
they began to outgrow their original cells, plants were potted up into 4″ pots
and shifted to our “big coldframe.” 
This building has less thermal mass than the cob greenhouse, and thus
temperatures fluctuate to a greater degree. 
Moving plants into this building was another step in the process of
accustoming plants to natural conditions. 
As time and space allowed, we shifted plants outdoors during the day and
back inside at night for greater acclimation. 
Once plants are out in the field, we have prepared them as best we can
for the vagaries of our climate. 

These cloudy days and
re-occurring showers are beneficial despite the wet clothes and cold
hands.  Both overcast conditions and
steady moisture ease the plant’s shock at being in a new environment.  When the sun does shine the plants are ready
for growth, eased into their garden locale and ready for a healthy season. 

Transplanting is an exciting step in the spring
gardening process.  It represents a
turning point between the equinox and solstice, a phase of transition in which
gardens shake off their dormancy and suddenly come alive with the colors and
vibrancy of a lush season.  Spring will
lead us to summer in rapid fashion.