The Brassica Mafia

The large Brassica family offers a huge variety of flavour but with one thing in common; their nutritional content provides natural protection against winter ills.

Broccoli and kale are regarded as superfoods but in fact all brassicas are high in fibre, essential minerals, and vitamins like A, C, K and E that strengthen the immune system.

I can’t help thinking of them as the brassica mafia, with the majestic white-headed cauliflower or the showy purple sprouting broccoli as The Don, while kale, mustard and Asian greens are the hit men, offering quick returns and raking in the protection money.

The cabbages are a sub-family on their own and there are some, like the exotic Savoy cabbage or the huge Glory of Enkhuizen that can give The Don a run for his money.

Whoever you would like to invite into your veggie patch, this is the month to sow, because brassicas  need to be well established before it gets really cold.

What brassica’s need:

For a good winter into spring crop they need full sun, and  well composted fertile soil. During the growing period feed monthly fertilising and keep the soil consistently moist. If you don’t deliver, they won’t perform.

Getting started

Sow seed directly into the soil or into seed trays and keep moist during germination. Soak the seed overnight in diluted mixture of Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger to boost germination. It can also be used as a drench for seedlings.

Seedlings should be ready for planting out after six weeks, spacing according to seed packet  instructions. Enrich the soil with compost and Vigorosa 5:1:5 before transplanting.

Try these brassicas

Here are five brassica’s to consider for a good mix of flavour, colour and ease of growing.

Kale ‘Dinosaur’ from RAW seeds, may be a sneaky way of getting the kids to eat their greens. The ruffled leaves certainly have a prehistoric look, but the leaves are sweeter and less bitter than other types of kale. The colder it gets the sweeter its flavour.

‘Dinosaur’ is an Italian heirloom vegetable, producing long, narrow blue-green leaves that grow from the base. Space plants 50cm apart, as plants grow 90 to 100cm high and wide. The leaves can be harvested when they are 30cm long.

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.

Broccoli needs at least six hours of sun and deep, regular watering. Plants have a big root system and if their development is stunted the plant won’t want to make heads. Don’t let the soil dry out and mulch to retain the surface moisture.

Baby cabbages are a quicker, easier crop than full-sized cabbages. Planting baby cabbage 10cm by 10cm will yield a small cabbage of 100g to 500g. If planted 30 cm further apart the heads will be bigger. Keep the soil moist but never water-logged.

‘Cabbage Baby Red’ (Kirchhoffs) is compact, dense and dark red with a sweet taste and tender texture. ‘Baby Green Cabbage’ has a sweet spicy flavour and 15cm diameter head. These mini’s can be grown in containers or in the ground. Harvest when the heads feel firm to the touch.

Mustard greens have peppery bright green ruffled leaves that mellow in flavour when cooked. It also grows well in containers. Kirchhoffs has an heirloom green mustard that is a quick crop that will have the first leaves ready for picking within three weeks Pick the outer leaves, like spinach or as a cut and come again vegetable .

The young leaves add flavour to winter salads and if stir fried with bacon, garlic, chillies, and a splash of lemon juice or vinegar, it’s a tasty side vegetable for winter roasts.

Kohlrabi ‘White Vienna’ is one of the easiest brassicas to grow and the least known. It produces an edible, above-ground bulb, with creamy-white tender flesh that has a mild broccoli flavour with a hint of apple.

Plant out into deeply dug-over (30cm), well-composted fertile soil that drains well, spacing plants 10 to 15cm apart.

Plants grow quickly so water regularly at soil level to prevent wetting the leaves. Pick the bulb when it’s the size of an apple; about 55 days from sowing. Left longer it becomes woody.

Peel and grate raw into salads, chop for stir-fries or roast. Use the young, tender leaves in salad or, with the stems, as a spinach substitute.

The Brassica Mafia- Beeld

By Alice Coetzee