Brassica time

Brassicas are all those members of the cabbage family—cabbage itself, plus broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and all the numerous varieties of Chinese and Japanese greens.

In this part of the country brassicas are generally considered winter vegetables, so sowing seed should commence in late summer and autumn, to get a winter and early spring crop. I’ve heard that some gardeners sow as early as mid summer, but I’ve never managed it, because tending to summer veggies usually takes all my time and effort.

However, I’m into it now and have been sowing seed daily, some direct sown and some in punnets to be potted up later.

The wonderful thing about brassicas is that they germinate so quickly. Here’s some of my seedlings; the fastest (black kale, on the left) took 2 days and the others took 3-4 days. As well as the black kale, there’s Wombok Chinese cabbage, Dwarf Siberian kale and mustard Osaka Purple (just coming up on the right) :

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The problem with brassicas is that they are the food plant for the Cabbage White Butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves and the green caterpillars which hatch set to straight away and demolish all the leaves. I can keep my seedlings in the polyhouse until the cooler weather puts an end to the butterflies (or they’ve laid all they can manage and have gone to god with the satisfaction of a job well done), or I can put them out in the open when the butterflies are still around and monitor them daily for a caterpillar squashing session (of course I can net them too, but that gets a bit cumbersome). I like to get them out as soon as possible because they tend to get leggy in the polyhouse, owing to the shadecloth over the top of the plastic (which I can’t get at to remove now and in any case it gets far too hot in there in summer without it).

There hasn’t been nearly as many white butterflies around this season as normally, but there are still a few to make life difficult for the ardent brassica grower. So inspecting and squashing becomes part of the daily routine.

If I get in early before the eggs have hatched, I can simply rub the eggs off the leaves with my thumb. They’re quite easy to see (glasses on) and are usually on the underside of the leaves (the butterfly thinks I won’t see them there, but she doesn’t know I have a (slightly) bigger brain than her and worked that one out long ago) :

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Sometimes I’ll leave eggs on a few trap plants to hatch and wait till the caterpillars get to a reasonable size, because the chooks love them as a treat.

I’ve also direct-sowed a lot of seed too. This is Mizuna, a Japanese green that comes in both green and purple-leaved varieties. This was mixed seed collected from the garden, but it seems to be all green :

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I’ve sown it in the second-hand bath which I received from a family member for Christmas. I harvest it by cutting handfuls of leaves just above the growth point with scissors and it keeps growing back :

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That’s a really good net—the openings are too small to allow the butterflies in and it will also keep the rabbits from browsing the leaves around the edges. In a couple of weeks I’m going to plant my garlic in the other half of the bath.

This is broccoli in a large tub :

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Although all these self-sown seedlings are very close together, I’ll be continually thinning them and either eating the thinnings or giving them to the chooks. They love all brassicas, especially kale.

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7 Responses to “Brassica time”

  1. Pam Goetting Says:

    Hi, foodnstuff!

    That Mizuna is gorgeous and all your baby brassicas look really healthy. The bath tub is wonderful, not much stooping over to work in it either. Boy, the Cabbage White Butterflies are a complete scourge here in Virginia and they never even let up over the summer. I have found no organic spray that bothers them ( tried garlic spray and pepper sprays). All I can do is, like you, have squashing sessions, but it never ends. I have tried covering them with white netting, but am not sure I set it up right as some still got in. We plant most of ours in late summer and they overwinter fairly well, but I plant some directly about now, too. Luckily, since most of them are grown for their leaves, they do grow back even when well-chewed on.

    Pam

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      I have found that the butterflies can get through a half-inch (1 cm) opening. I watched one just fold her wings back and slip in. I was amazed! So a net has to have even smaller spaces than that. Sometimes I use mosquito netting, which nothing gets through!

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  2. kmfinigan Says:

    Ahhhh the dreaded cabbage moth, the brassica’s worst enemy. I struggled for so many years with them, particularly when my plants were seedlings. I wrote a bit about pest removal methods at all stages of the White cabbage moth’s life cycle on my blog if you run into any trouble! http://bit.ly/1lRYMoo

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  3. Pam Goetting Says:

    Thanks, Kathy! That sounds like great; I will give those three things a try.

    Pam

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  4. Bek Says:

    I just planted out the last of my brassicas this weekend gone. I use nets as I don’t get around to squishing often enough to keep them at bay. Thanks for the tip on the size of the net, I now use my smaller hole nets and some curtain net fabric, which two years in is starting to tear but should last the season.

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  5. Chris Says:

    I’ve been taking cuttings, but not planting seeds yet. This was a good reminder!

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