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Back to brassicas...

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Adamn Greathead
Rank attained: Hazel Tree
Rank attained: Hazel Tree

Joined: 12 Sep 2006
Posts: 44
Location: West Midlands

PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2007 3:32 pm    Post subject: Back to brassicas... Reply with quote

"Sprouts can be delicious, succulent and sexy"
I put this question to you: What is a vegetable garden without any brassicas? The answer is nihilistic- empty, obviously. Brassicas, i believe adopt a real sense of utilitarian fulfilness with their palette of colours ranging from the freshest green to the coolest blue and right through to blood-thirsty red. If this was not enough they also succeed in plugging the 'hungry gap'- the period from March until May which not very many vegetables can producein.
It goes without saying that cabbages are the most familiar candidates in the brassica family but, as many of you will already know, the list goes on. Despite having cabbages which can be eaten year round we would rather save them for winter and not during the summer months when the garden has reached its peak performance and beans, carrots, beetroot and the like are all bounteously producing decent and, not least, delicious food.
Cauliflowers are hard work. And, in being so, often signal failure for the gardener thus rendering them an utter waste of time. On the other hand they are a delectable member of the brassica family and every year i find myself trialling several plants, hoping and praying for success whether it be a one-off or not. Most importantly the key to success with cauliflowers is in the watering- keep them constantly moist to encourage lush leafy growth for as soon as the roots dry out the plants will be forced to flower under the stress and, as the flower happens to be the curd which we eat, its premature appearance will be far too small for a decent meal. I often plant my cauliflowers in a trench which has had some good organic matter incorporated into it. This trench is then filled to the brim with water. The water is unable to escape so therefore all of the available moisture reaches where it is most needed- at the roots. This year i am growing the variety 'All the year round' which, as the name suggests, can be ready to harvest in any given month if certain strategic sowings are made.
When somebody mentions brassicas one of the last plants people think of is kale however, kale is one of the quiet performers in the vegetable garden in the sense that they remain unknown to some ignorant or maybe uninformed people. We grow kale here religiously starting the plants off in May sowing them in modular trays. These trays are then transferred to a coldframe until the bulky seedlings surge through. Most kale can be planted out from June onwards for a winter cum spring harvest. On the other hand some people prefer to make an earlier sowing to be eating kale in September. Again, at such a time when the vegetable garden is so opulent and very little space is available for a dozen or more plants of kale so we are quite happy and contented to wait until December for our first kale-enriched meal. For pure aesthetics try a variety called 'Redbor' which has seemingly scarlet foliage, slightly crinkled that look astounding when interplanted with the metallic shine that is cerinthe major purpurescens.
Hindsight is a miraculous thing and, if i had had it sooner, i would have planted more swedes in the vegetable garden last year for i adore them mashed with black pepper, best farmhouse butter slowly melting and permeating through the sumptuous orange flesh. In fact there is no lovelier winter supper than mashed swede- something i look forward to. As it is i am somewhat limited on space which only permits several dozen swedes to be grown. And, as the whole family likes swede, what seems a lot soon becomes nothing. Nothing lasts forever but i certainly wish swedes did. Sow the seed at the beginning of May into plugs and, once again, place into a coldframe immediately. I guarantee that within 10 days the seeds will have germinated at which stage they can be planted out 9" apart in well-enriched soil, one that has preferably had some compost added several weeks previous. One factor that adheres to brassicas is their lust for copious amounts of water and swedes are no exception. The rule of thumb is water, water, water and then, if you have the time or inclination, water some more.
Christmas would not be christmas without brussel sprouts. Their lime green corsets compliment the christmas dinner with awe-inflicting simplicity and for this reason alone iwould happily grow row upon row of these majestic plants. Often associated with a soggy mess, sprouts have adopted rather a bad press yet do not make this the case. Sprouts can be delicious, succulent and sexy. I know of people who sow their sprouts in situ and, at the other end of the scale, i know of those who don't- i belong to the latter, preferring to sow into plugs in March and then planting them into their final positions between the hazel wigwams of runner beans at the beginning of May.
One last point to note is with any brassicas it is vital that you do not plant them in freshly manured ground. I say this because if you do all that goodness will be utilised by the plant to produce a mass of leafy growth which is handy when it comes to spring cabbages or kale but for things such as cabbages and broccoli all the nitrogen will consume the plant and prevent it from fabricating a crop.
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