The ABC of winter veggies …easier to grow than you think

March is the main month for planting winter veggies, and brassicas such as kale, broccoli, Asian greens, and cabbage are the main winter crops.

There is a saying, nature gives us what we need, when we need it’. So, it is no coincidence that the main health benefit of the brassica family is that they contain all the vitamins and minerals that strengthen the immune system.

The recommended daily allowance, according to the US Department of Agriculture, is one cup of cooked vegetables a day or two cups of raw vegetables. But not more than that or the thyroid function could be impaired.

They need: full sun in winter, well-composted, fertile soil, monthly fertilising and consistently moist soil through regular watering.  If you don’t deliver, they won’t perform as they should.

A is for Asian greens that are a good source of vitamins A, C and K.

Pak choi, tatsoi and mizuna are tasty, tangy leafy veggies for salads, stir fries and any Asian inspired dishes.

Japanese Giant Red Mustard, Red Frills and Green in Snow are pungent mustard leaves for salads, soups and stir fries. 

To grow: Harvest the outer leaves regularly or cut off the whole plant and let the stub re-grow. Eradicate cabbage caterpillar with an organic insecticide like Margaret Roberts Biological Insecticide.

B is for broccoli that is regarded as a superfood because of its nutritional density. Both stalks and florets are nutritious, and cooking (preferably steaming) makes the nutrients optimally available.

Broccoli ‘Green Sprouting Calabrese’ (Kirchhoffs) is an heirloom variety that is a reliable performer. After cutting main head, additional flower sprouts will form for later picking, which extends its harvest life.

To grow: It’s most important requirement is regular watering so that plants don’t wilt as this affects the size of the head. Two weeks after planting, top dress with a nitrogen rich fertiliser and again after four weeks. Pick the head before flowers develop.

C is for cabbage and the easiest to grow are baby cabbages. They are quicker to harvest and can be grown closer together. Their flavour, of course, is the clincher, being sweeter or milder than their ‘adult’ counterparts.

‘Red Primero’ (Kirchhoffs) is compact, dense and dark red with a sweet taste and tender texture. ‘Gonzales’ has a sweet spicy flavour and 15cm diameter head.

These mini’s can be grown in containers or in the ground, spaced 30 to 38cm apart. Harvest when the heads feel firm to the touch.

K is for kale and kohlrabi. Kale (raw, cooked or smoothies) has the highest level of vitamins and calcium among the cruciferous vegetables.  Kohlrabi’s high fibre content assists the digestive process and helps with weight loss, helping to give that ‘full’ feeling.

Kale is a dream vegetable. It is not bothered by aphids or diseases, and cold weather gives the leaves a sweeter taste. It likes slightly acid soil and can also grow in partial shade.

Kale Chou Moullier (Kirchhoffs) also known as Boorkool, is the traditional, tall growing kale. It has mild flavoured flat leaves that should be picked from the bottom upwards. The growing point is at the top and should not be cut as this stops the production of leaves. It can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Vates Blue Curled and Kale Dinosaur  (RAW) are compact, leafy varieties that grow like spinach and the outer leaves are picked.

Kohlrabi ‘ White Vienna’ (RAWis a quick crop that doesn’t need any special treatment. The ‘bulb’, which is the swollen, fleshy stem that develops just above the ground is milder and sweeter than cabbage. Drought-stressed plants produce tough ‘bulbs’. Harvest Kohlrabi when the ‘bulb” is between the size of a golf and a tennis ball (5 to 7cm in diameter). The bigger it gets the more fibrous it becomes.