Down in the Garden: Brilliant Brassicas

It’s time!

Time to get those cabbages and cauliflowers planted for a winter harvest.

I am addicted to broccoli fresh from the garden, alright, anything fresh from the garden, but it is impossible to beat that immediate crispy crunch and sweet earthy flavour of a quickly snapped stalk of broccoli.

So, let’s get you growing the brassica family of plants for cooler weather treats.

What are Brassicas?

These are the mustard family of plants and also part of the Cruciferae family.

They are all incredibly good for you as they contain high levels of fibre and vitamins and depending on their type, many other beneficial elements.

All of these vegetables are also often referred to as ‘super’ foods because they contain substances known as glucosinolates.

These are what give them their stronger flavour and aroma, but it is these that also help inhibit the development of many cancer types as well as reduce inflammation and balance our stress responses.

The Big Four

The list of vegetables belonging to the Brassica family is very long, but these are probably the most common vegetables that most of us consume regularly along with gardening and cooking tips.

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) Although there are lots of varieties, most really do best when cultivated now, in the autumn.

Sow into seed trays and then transplant when around 8 to 10cm high.

Water the trays well for a few days before transplanting and then ensure they are kept moist after moving into place.

Bury the first two leaves when planting out as this will ensure greater stability of the growing plant.

They need a sunny position in very deep, rich soil that is free draining.

Watering needs to be regular to avoid loose heads and a nitrogen-rich general fertiliser is recommended.

To harvest, cut the head from the plant and then score the stump of the plant twice in a cross about 1.5cm deep as this can encourage a supplementary growth of smaller cabbages.

No matter the type, all can be used by shredding their raw leaves for salads, as an addition to stir fries that can also replace noodles for a lower carb option and are the base for most coleslaws and sauerkraut.

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) Like many vegetables, Broccoli has lots of varieties these days and this means you can pretty much ensure year-round crops in our temperate area.

In saying that, now is the time for planting most, and you can get those seeds into trays so they are ready for the garden once they reach the size recommended by the variety.

They all love a warm position and lots of sun and though free-draining soil is best, they do like to be kept a tad on the moist side.

Feeding should be regular and keep the nitrogen levels low in your selected feed as you want more florets not more leaves.

Harvest as per variety by cutting the head and leaving as much stem as possible so that additional supplementary heads can form.

Keep feeding so this can occur.

So many ways and so many delicious outcomes.

The stems can be chopped up and roasted, added to stir fries or soups and the delicious heads chopped into salads raw or used in stir fries or even steamed.

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis) Most varieties can be planted from mid to late autumn.

On the Coast, they are best raised in seed trays and then transplanted once about 10cm in height.

Make sure that watering is steady and even throughout growth until harvest as this will give you nicely formed heads.

Keep nitrogen feeding low as you want the plant to focus on development of the head, not the leaves.

They do like a liquid feed every fortnight as well.

Once the heads are reaching maturity, bend over the leaves and tie at the top to enclose.

This will keep them white, clean and deter pests.

Harvest by cutting head from plant once the size for variety has been achieved or if you notice separation of florets occurring.

Keep up feed and watering of plant after harvest as this can encourage additional smaller heads.

Use in the same way as Broccoli but also try grating as a low carb substitute to rice or slicing through entire firm heads to create Cauliflower steaks which cook up wonderfully on the BBQ.

Brussel Sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera) Look out for varieties that can be planted in autumn, (which is the majority) and sow into seed trays.

They are not fond of root disturbance so you might like to chance sowing into their final destination, if not, water well the days before popping them out of their trays.

You will need a sheltered position that is sunny and a very rich, free-draining soil for these lovelies.

While your seeds are germinating, let’s check the soil quality in their final position.

It needs to be rich in organic matter, so add if needed and requires a pH of around 7.

If lower, then add lime as per instructions.

Once you have planted out your brussels sprouts, feed with a nitrogen rich fertiliser, but once sprouts have begun to form, back off on the nitrogen.

They love steady watering so don’t let them dry out.

To harvest, cut off mature sprouts with a sharp small knife. I was never a fan until I had these little beauties roasted.

Just superb! You can also steam, sauté or finely slice or even grate raw for salads.

Pests love Brassicas

We love them and so do pests and this is one reason that I have suggested bringing up your seedlings in seed trays rather than planting them straight into the garden bed.

This gives them a bit of a chance to develop.

Having healthy soil and plants are the best defence against pests and disease but you might try also some clever companion planting.

For brassicas, plant in some anise, thyme, pennyroyal and letting a healthy tomato plant or two stay in the plot can also help deter pests.

Don’t water the actual plants but rather the soil and that goes for fertilisers as well as this will help keep diseases at bay.

If you do have an infestation of insects, look for an organic preparation but perhaps one of the best ways is to simply sacrifice a few plants in a plot grown near the edge of your garden.

Plant a couple of each in a small plot for the pests.

Leave them undisturbed and you should see pests preferring to set up home there rather than your busy garden area.

TIME TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY

This week you could plant:

broad beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, cress, leeks, mustard, onions, spring onions, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips, chives, coriander, dill, endive, garlic, rocket, calendula, carnation, cornflower, delphinium, everlasting daisies, foxgloves, honesty, lobelia, nigella, primula, snapdragon, statice, wallflower.

AROUND THE COAST THIS WEEK

Autumn Online Native Plant Sale until 15th March, Australian Plant Society NSW Central Coast Branch. Purchase now and pick up Sunday 18th April Kariong. Sales and details: www.austplants.com.au/Central-Coast-Plant-sales

SWAMP School Holiday Program: Nature Day for Girls Wednesday 7th April 9am – 12pm. A day for young women 10-16 years, spending time learning about the importance of connection to nature. www.eventbrite.com.au/e/swamp-school-holidays-nature-day-for-girls-tickets-145574450099

SWAMP School Holiday Program: Propagating Plants Thursday 8th April 9am – 12pm Children 6 to 12yrs. Come join Cheralyn and learn how to create your own indoor house plants. www.eventbrite.com.au/e/swamp-school-holidays-propogating-indoor-plants-tickets-145575142169

Warm Farming for Kids. 6 to 14yrs Thursday 8th April 9am to 10am Central Coast Council, Gosford Regional Gallery. www.centralcoast.nsw.gov.au/whats-on.

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am every Saturday on Coast FM.

Send your gardening questions, events and news to: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com

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