Diogenes, a famous Greek philosopher, chose a life of poverty, living on the streets of Athens. One night as he was eating his supper of cabbage, a friend from the king’s court said, “If you would cozy up to the King you wouldn’t have to eat cabbage.” Whereupon, Diogenes said, “If you would eat cabbage, you wouldn’t have to cozy up to the king.”
The Brassica family includes arugula, broccoli, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, rutabaga, turnip, radish, wasabi and horseradish, and watercress. All are very nutritious.
Brassica is a cool weather family. Plant seeds outside as soon as the soil is workable, in early May. They are heavy feeders, so prepare your soil with a heavy application of compost. Depending on the quality of your soil, you may apply a combination of blood meal and bone meal at a rate of one cup per 10 feet of each row. Mix it into the soil before seeding.
Brassica needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
For the larger varieties, plant in rows 20 inches apart keeping the surface moist until they germinate. Seeds germinate quickly. Thin to a minimum of 18 inches once they have sprouted. Once thinned, cover the seedlings with a row cover to prevent root maggot flies and cabbage moths from laying their eggs. Keep the row covers on until the plant growth is constricted by the row cover.
Once the plants get about 6 inches high, mulch around each plant.
To control the cabbage moth after removing the row cover, spray Bt (Bacterial Thuringiensis) once a week in the early evening.
Water weekly to ensure the soil does not dry out. Inadequate watering may result in a bitter product, bolting (going to seed), and, In the case of cabbage, splitting of the head. Water deeply by placing a tin with holes in the bottom by each plant, placed with the top of the tin at ground level. Fill each tin a number of times each week, depending on the temperature, to keep the soil at the root level moist.
Some Brassica can tolerate a small frost and become sweeter after. Cauliflower is the exception.
The above comments apply to most brassica varieties.
Comments on common varieties follow.
Broccoli is a flower. Harvest when the flower is dark green and before the individual buds open into yellow flowers. To harvest, cut the head off with a sharp knife, leaving the rest of the plant in the ground. Some small flower heads will appear that can also be harvested and eaten.
Brussel Sprouts form along the stem in small balls. Because they take a long time to mature, start seedlings in mid-March, and transplant in early May.
Cabbage heads will split if the soil fluctuates from too dry to too wet. If this happens, twist the plant slightly and pull up a bit, dislodging some roots. Harvest cabbage when the heads are firm, no matter what the size. Cabbage can survive a light frost and become sweeter after a frost.
Cauliflower is a flower; the most common and hardiest variety is white. To maintain the white, tie the leaves around the flower when it starts to form. Harvest cauliflower when the heads are smooth, compact, and 6 to 8 inches in diameter.
Kale is harvested by cutting lower leaves in the amount needed. Two plants are generally enough for a household.
Kohlrabi is a swelling on the stem and is ready to harvest when the swollen stem reaches about 4 inches in diameter. Kohlrabi’s yield is considerably less than the yield of other brassica vegetables.
Radishes are fast-growing. Succession plant in short rows and thin to 2 inches. Harvest as soon as the root matures. Leave them too long and they become woody and bitter.
Rutabaga and Turnips are similar; turnips are white, rutabagas are yellow. Cover with a floating row cover to prevent root maggots.