Monday 1 October 2012

Winter = Brassicas

For me, the Winter season in the garden is synonymous with the growing of brassicas. Actually this is just a perception, since most of the brassicas plants will be been sown in April or May and planted out in about July. It's just that with so many other things being in the garden during the Summer they are a bit less obvious than you might think, but come October they are beginning to be more noticeable, and by December they are practically the only plants left.

Cabbage "Golden Acre"

 I'm sure most of you know this, but the brassica family is the Cabbage family, a very big family that includes not only Cabbages, but also Cauliflowers, Broccoli, Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Kohlrabi, Swedes, Turnips and Radishes (and many others besides). Plants in this family tend to be pretty hardy and will withstand cold conditions better than most, which is why I associate them with Winter.

One of my six raised beds is currently devoted to growing brassicas. Not entirely devoted to it, I have to admit, because the big brassica plants are underplanted with a few endives and chicories. I currently have it protected by a net from the diggings of my local fox population, but I have folded-back the net to show you what's underneath:

Nearest the camera are six Cavolo Nero plants, which are nearing maturity. I normally treat these as cut-and-come-again plants, harvesting a few leaves at a time rather than cutting the whole plant. I see them as being Autumn plants, rather than Winter ones, but I know from experience that they will survive some very low temperatures. If you leave them to mature they will produce a crop of tiny flower-shoots than can be used like sprouting broccoli.

Cavolo Nero "Black Tuscany"

Here's a view of the Cavolo Nero from the other side. The undersides of the leaves are typically smooth and pale, whereas the tops are dark green verging on black, and deeply "savoyed" or wrinkled.

"Black Tuscany"
Down the centre of the far end of the bed are three Brussels Sprout plants of the variety "Brilliant". This is something of an experiment for me. I have only ever tried growing sprouts once before, many years ago, and they were a complete failure. This year I considered that enough time had elapsed for me to put that failure behind me and use my accumulated gardening knowledge into play and have another go. Things are looking better this time!

Brussels Sprout "Brilliant"
You can see that I have provided each of the plants with a sturdy wooden stake, because they do get quite big and top-heavy, and are very vulnerable to wind damage. The little sprouts are swelling quite nicely:

At the foot of the Sprouts are the Cabbages. I originally planted four each of "Golden Acre" (green) and "Primero" (red). Two of the green ones have gone by now (one eaten by us; one eaten by slugs), and the other two are ready for harvesting. Officially they are Summer Cabbage, but they have (in common with many other plants this year) developed very slowly. You can see that this one is beginning to split, which is a sure sign that it wants to be harvested:

"Golden Acre"
The Red Cabbage (known in the USA as Purple Cabbage, which is a more accurate name!) is very slow to grow even normally, so it's definitely not ready yet. However, grown at close spacings like mine they will never get very big - which is convenient for us since we seldom eat Red Cabbage in any substantial quantity.


In another of the raised beds my Purple Sprouting Broccoli is coming on nicely. Each plant is tied to a supporting stake, and is spaced about three feet from its nearest neighbour.

PSB with Chirory underplanted beneath it
This bed currently looks overcrowded, but the Raddichio-type Chicory will be harvested in a few weeks time and the Broccoli will not be ready till next Spring. This underplanting method allows me to gain the maximum output from my space. It has to be sensibly done though, because you don't want to exhaust the soil and you don't want to choose plants that will vie with each other for the light. As you can see the PSB is tall and its foliage is not yet dense, whereas the Radicchio is short, and therefore the smaller plants will still get enough light coming underneath the PSB leaves.

Radicchio "Firestorm"

Even the PSB plant that nearly succumbed to the Cabbage Root Fly is looking OK now. It is much smaller than the other five, but it will probably still deliver a worthwhile harvest in due course.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli
So there we have it: brassicas, the mainstay of my Winter crops. And very welcome they are too, in our house.


  1. We've still got cabbage whites sniffing around here!

  2. I do like the idea of under planting PSB with raddichio great use of space.

  3. Is frost impending yet? Waiting for a nsap here so to bring in some sprouts and one of the cabbages.

  4. All looking very healthy. Looks like you'll be having sprouts with your Christmas dinner this year.

  5. I so love the brassicas. I keep trying to grow brussels sprouts, but have yet to succeed. This year I planted them too late (I forgot about them). So they are way too tiny to develop. I can see small little nubs, but we get our first frost in the month and the ground freezes in mid November. So they have little time.

  6. Your brassicas look really impressive. Now I wish I had grown cabbage. I'm never grown brussels sprouts but will have to give it a go at some stage. Kale is must grow plant for me, good for adding to many dishes and looks great in the garden.

  7. I couldn't imagine not having brassicas over winter - they are my mainstay and take up at least a third of the plot. Yours are looking very healthy - here's hoping you get some fine harvests out of them.

  8. Your cabbage family looks great. I have placed my order to Thompson and Morgan today and managed to squeeze in 24 sachets of seeds into my 50 pounds voucher! Among flowers and other vegetables, I ordered chilli peppers, black and purple kale and tomatillo. i love to try something new.

  9. Wow what a great variety you have Mark! I know what you mean about brassicas, even though they are actually around for a long time they sort of come in to their own in the autumn and winter. Your patch looks very healthy.

  10. Your brassicas are looking very good. Mine are struggling having been eaten by slugs, cabbage white butterfly caterpillars and more recently by Muntjac deer. I was so suprised to see one in the garden, when I tried to shoo it away it gave me such a look then trotted off in it's own time. Talk about attitude!


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