Bursting with goodness, these hardy no fuss vegetables are brilliant crops to plant in the winter garden. All members of the cabbage family are brassicas. Many of the family are widely known and grown such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and cavolo nero. Others such as bok choy, mizuna, mustard, misome, kohl rabi and tatsoi are a little more novel, however just as tasty and very easy to grow.
Get planting or sowing seeds now:
If your aim is to harvest within the next few months, it's best to plant seedlings, however if time isn’t an issue, seeds are super easy to grow and all types can be sown now.
A handful of brassicas are exceptionally quick to grow, these are often referred to as Asian greens and include bok choy, mizuna, mibuna, misome and mustard.
Where to plant
Plant in full sun, in well dug fertile soil. Space larger varieties at least 50cm – 70cm apart, to ensure the crops can fully mature and are not fighting for space, fertiliser and water. Some brassicas do thrive in pots and containers too. Choose the smaller varieties.
Bug and slug watch
Slugs and snails can be an issue - lay plenty of Tui Quash around young plants. Whitefly and white butterflies enjoy the young leaves too, use Tui Insect Control for Fruit & Veges to control whitefly and derris dust to deter white butterflies. Mulch with Tui Pea Straw Mulch to keep the soil warmer and weeds away.
- Non heading of broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco – plants produce loads of leaves and no crop. This is generally an issue with too much nitrogen fertiliser, which can happen when animal manures are used solely to fertilise vegetable gardens. Crops like tomatoes, corn, and these brassicas need potassium and phosphorus to form the head, use Tui Vegetable Food.
- Brussel sprouts get sweeter and tastier with each frost, so don’t fret if there’s a heavy frost! Harvest from the bottom of the trunk first and store in the fridge for a few weeks.
- Harvest broccoli and cauliflower when the heads are still tight, once they start spreading they lose flavour. Cut off the head before you pull out the root, otherwise you could end up with dirt all through the head! If you leave the plant in new, smaller heads will appear in a few weeks below the first one and continue to sprout for the rest of the season.
- Pick leaves from leafy varieties of brassicas like cavolo nero as required, the plant will keep producing leaves throughout the season.
- Bok choi and similar brassicas will often regrow if you cut off at ground level with a sharp knife but it won’t be as sweet.
The best of Brassicas:
- Broccoflower - a neat cross between broccoli and cauliflower, this tasty gem looks like cauliflower but tastes like broccoli.
- Broccoli - look for Green Dragon as the stalwart, for something a little different try Side Sprouter or purple sprouting broccoli.
- Cabbages - the small growing Little Cutie is perfect for pots, Savoy suits Asian inspired dishes, whereas Dutch Red has a neat, compact, super tight habit and holds its shape for months.
- Cauliflower - lovers will be drawn to White Cloud, with its pillow like florets it’s a winner selected by many. Violet is a neat one to try with its bold pink violet heads add to its appeal
- Cavalo Nero – the Pineapple Cabbage's upright habit takes up little space and what’s even better is you can harvest a few leaves at a time and more leaves re-grow. It produces a marathon of greens for up to six months of the year.
- Tatsoi - is a speedy winter green that should be given a spot this autumn. Being a non heading Chinese cabbage, leaves can be plucked individually for salads, or the whole plant can be harvested at once.
- Curly Kale - it's upright habit makes it a fabulous option to blend into flower beds as well as a mainstay in the veggie garden. Red, green and purple varieties are available.
- Kohlrabi (German turnip) - a useful crop as both the bulb and leaves can be eaten.
- Mibuna - this Japanese green is a popular choice for those who enjoy a less demanding crop.
- Mizuna - probably the speediest crops you can ever grow, ready to harvest within a matter of weeks.
- Brussels sprouts - these brassicas are the exception to the rule, they need to be sown and planted in summer and autumn, as they have such a long growing time, it's too late to plant now to expect a decent harvest within the growing season.
By Rachel Vogan