Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

The Bountiful Brassica Bunch

by Susan Littlefield

November 2013

You may think of them more readily as members of the cabbage clan, but whatever you call them, the brassicas -- also called crucifers or cole crops -- are some of the most nutritious and tasty crops you can grow. One species in the genus Brassica is especially bountiful in the vegetable garden -- Brassica oleracea includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi. All of these veggies are not only delicious on the plate, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important phytonutrients, antioxidants, and healthful omega-3 fats. So be sure to include this beneficial bunch in your garden planning for next season.

Breeding Breeds Diversity

How is it that plants as different kale and Brussels sprouts are members of the same species? Although all are in this same botanical category, their diversity is found in cultivars or cultivated varieties, all of which have been bred and maintained by the hand of man over generations.

Regardless of their diverse looks, all of the brassicas like similar growing conditions, especially cool temperatures. So these crops are great for spring and fall planting, even winter crops in warmer parts of the country.

Here are just some the many brassicas we offer to try in your garden:

'Long Island Improved' Brussels Sprouts (90 days)—Grown chiefly as a fall crop, this uniform variety has an unusually fine flavor.

'Calabrese or Green Sprouting' Broccoli (85 days) —Bluish-green, 3-5 inch diameter heads form on this open-pollinated variety.

'Copenhagen Market' Cabbage (70 days) —A good early market and home garden variety with uniform, crisp, tender, 4 to 4 1/2 pound heads.

'Red Russian' Kale (50 days from transplant) —Deep gray-green leaves with purple veins are flat with deeply cut margins and have a sweet, mild flavor.

'Early White Vienna' Kohlrabi (55-60 days)—Forms fine textured, green bulbs that taste best when 2 inches in diameter.

'Red Acre' Cabbage (74-90 days) —A sure heading variety with deep red-purple, 5-7 inch diameter heads weighing 2-4 pounds.

Growing Broccoli

While you can direct seed broccoli right in the garden, success is more assured if you start seeds indoors and transplant seedlings to the garden when they are large enough to better weather insects pests and outdoor temperatures. Start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area; transplant hardened off seedlings into the garden two weeks before the the last frost date. For a fall crop, sow seeds 10 to 12 weeks before the first fall frost date. Gardeners in mild winter climates can sow succession crops in the fall for harvest throughout the winter.

Broccoli is a heavy feeder so work a few inches of organic matter into the soil before planting. Soil pH between 6.0 and 7.2 is ideal. Space seedling 15-18 inches apart and set them slightly deeper than they were growing in the container, up to their first set of true leaves. Protect the stem of each plant with a cutworm collar. The simplest way is to wrap the seedling stem with 2- to 3-inch strips of newspaper. Cover the seedlings with a floating row cover to prevent damage from flea beetles and cabbage worms. If the temperature dips below 50 degrees for more than one night, add some extras layers of row covers to prevent chilling injury.

Broccoli is ready to harvest as soon as the head, which is actually a cluster of unopened flower buds, is of a usable size and has a deep green color. Cut the main head with a 2 inch stem, then check for the formation of smaller side shoots that will extend your harvest.

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