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) :
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) :
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 :
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 :
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 :
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.