It’s that time of year where our meals start looking boringly familiar; meat, and cellar vegetables, you know potatoes, carrots, squash, cabbage and some rice…or tacos. This is usually when I try to mix things up a bit and start slathering the vegetables in bacon fat and olive oil and roasting them. It’s a nice change. Who doesn’t love anything cooked in bacon fat?!
Brassica’s are a very interesting family of vegetables. Personally I love them! I would guess we eat more out of this group than any other. This too has a few sub categories; Cabbages, Stems and Buds, and Leafy.
Cabbages sounds a bit straight forward, but this also includes Brussels Sprouts. I usually start cabbage indoors in February then transplant outside late spring. This doesn’t always work the best for me but I try every year anyway. I start the second planting in late May to early June in a spot where I can protect it some until July. This tends to give me a better harvest.
Cabbage needs a fair amount of space; like 3 foot rows for most varieties. Planting them close together works if you would like a few heads that are small (baseball/softball size). Pull the thinnings and leave the others to grow into full size heads. You can get a second crop of small heads if you cut the mature head just above the root and continue to water them. Up to 4 small heads will form from one stem.
If you’ve ever tried to grow cabbage you most likely have met the little critters that come with them. The first time I tried to grow cabbage at our last house I had the best crop of cabbage moths you’ve ever seen! There are a few remedies that will keep the pests at bay. If you prefer the dusting method, a light sprinkling of cayenne pepper or white flour works. Planting fragrant plants close to the cabbage, such as dill, thyme, garlic or onions usually works well too.
Cabbage stores very well in a root cellar or a cool basement. It also stores well as Sauerkraut! (Then you can make Sarma)
Brussels Sprouts are another member of this category. These I do start indoors rather than outside. They should be planted about 16 inches apart and can be hardened off in early spring. The pests that love the cabbage love Brussels sprouts too. The same techniques work for both. I have also heard if you put a nylon stocking (like grandma wears) over the plant it will keep the bugs off; might have to give that a try too. I will let you know what I find.
Harvesting the sprouts is quite simple. They grow on the main stem of the plant that is topped with leaves. They have a Dr.Suess look to them. Start at the bottom, grab the tiny head (about 1 inch average) and twist. You can get a few pickings from the same plant so don’t pull the plant right away. You can leave the plant in the ground through the winter if you like. The sprouts can be pick from the stem even in the snow! To keep them in a root cellar it’s best to hang the whole plant rather than keep the sprouts individually. They can be canned as well; I have only ever had fresh or frozen. I will can some this year and let you know how it goes.
Chinese Cabbages are in this category too. I’m too familiar with these. I have grown Bak Choy that the moths got. I have seeds for Pak Choy for this year. Chinese cabbage can have different forms but are can be prepared the same as cabbage. It is also easier to digest than regular cabbage.
Stems and Buds include Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, and Kale.
Broccoli is another plant that like sun but not heat, making it rather tricky to grow in some areas. If you start from seed indoors be sure to not start too early as it can easily get root bound and spindly. Like cabbage and sprouts you can get multiple cuttings from one plant. Generally the first will be the largest with smaller ones to follow.
Knowing when to harvest your broccoli can be a learning experience too. If the plant likes where it is, it can grow from 2-4 feet tall! The buds, when growing will be tight together, once they start to loosen its time to harvest. If you let them go longer they flower with a whole bunch of tiny yellow flowers. When that happens you can cut the stalk and place it in a mason jar on the table and enjoy the flowers. Don’t worry you can still get other smaller cuttings from the plant.
Cauliflower prefers partial shade and extra fertile soil. They should be planted 18 inches apart or so. Once the heads are about 3-5 inches across take the outside leaves and tie them up, covering the head. This will blanch the cauliflower and leave you with a clean white head. Not blanching the head will not hurt anything, you will have a slightly yellow/green head that will taste the same as the white. Once you harvest the head you can pull the plant as it will not produce more as broccoli does.
Storing you cauliflower can be done in a root cellar, however it won’t last long. I usually can or freeze mine.
Kohlrabi should be grown quickly in cool weather. Hot weather slows their growth and causes them to be woody and sharp tasting. Kohlrabi look a lot like a turnip growing above ground with stemmed leaves growing out of it. Harvest your spring crop when it is about 2 inches in diameter, in the fall about the size of a tennis ball.
Storing can be done in a root cellar when stored like carrots; remove the outer leaves and layer between damp sand or saw dust.
The Leafy clan includes collards, kale, mustard, and turnip greens, among others.
Collards are a traditional southern crop and dish for that matter. I don’t have much experience growing these…yet.
Kale is a great crop, not only because it’s super nutritious, but is can grow well in the cold and heat. Plants should be about 12 inches apart and watered well in the summer.
To harvest cut the outer leaves and leave the inner smaller ones to continue to produce. At the end of the season, leave the plants in, don’t till them and them should be back in the spring.
Mustard greens remind me of growing spinach.
As far as Turnip greens I eat the turnips, not the greens, they are too prickly, kinda like fiber glass.