Winter Brassica Round Up

I harvested my last remaining cauliflower last week which brought to a close the bulk of my brassica harvesting for this season.  In Melbourne most brassicas are generally grown as winter crops.  There are exceptions: radishes are grown all year, watercress tends to do best in Spring, but the big 3 cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli tend to be grown predominantly in winter by home gardeners.  You can grow all 3 throughout the year if you select the right varieties but due to space considerations and the greater concentration of pests during the warmer months they are generally treated as winter crops.

These are the winter Brassicas I grew this year: broccoli, romanesco broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, and kale.  This is how each performed:

Broccoli – This year I grew Calabrese (Green Sprouting Broccoli), I did think I also had some Green Dragon seedlings but they either turned into Calabrese, died or I left them at my fathers, not really sure which.  It didn’t matter much as I was really pleased with the “Calabrese”.  This variety formed a small central head at the same time as a multitude of side shoots, and the side shoots have kept going over a reasonably long period.  The florets are really open as you can see below:

I found them perfect for the sort of things I use broccoli for – stir fries and pasta dishes.  In the main the stalks were tender although those from one plant in particular were a little tough.  Definitely a success and definitely a variety I will grow again.

In direct contrast was my very unfortunate experience with red cabbage.  I completely failed to get a single head.  I do have one plant still in the ground but thus fair it has been a complete disaster.  I sowed Red Express seeds in January – smack bang in the middle òf the sowing period as advised on the seed packet.  Not only did they not mature in the 63 days promised but they sat in the garden looking unhappy for quite some time.  The first few I planted out didn’t get enough sun, the next couple suffered awful aphid attack, the next two looked pretty happy until one started hearting, or so I thought until it bolted instead.

I pulled the one next to it as it too had succumbed to aphids.  So now I have one left and its been growing for closer to 150 days than 63 and frankly is something of a lost cause.  Its a shame because last year my red cabbages did really well (seedlings from the green warehouse outpost of the Wesfarmers empire…).  If I had room I’d sow some seeds now to see if they did better but I don’t so I won’t and I think it will be a new variety for me next year.

My experience with cauliflower feel somewhere between that of broccoli and cabbage, neither the complete success of the broccoli nor the unmitigated disaster of the cabbages.  The earlier cauli’s didn’t do as well as the later ones which Dave at Daves Square Foot Garden suggested may well have been related to their enjoyment of cooler temperatures and I think I’m inclined to agree, at least in part.   The other thing that may well have contributed is greater amounts of food.  After the first few were pretty ordinary (or in some cases downright disappointing) I did make a concerted effort to give them some fish emulsion every two weeks and I do think it helped considerably.  I will grow this variety – Year Round – again remembering to keep the food up to it and see how it does.

To see the difference between early and latter heads compare the below photo with the one at the top of this post:

My kale did well this year.  I had a plant of Red Russian but the majority of kale I grew and harvested was Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale).  I was really pleased with it.  The one caveat I would put on that was that the plants that were better established prior to the onset of winter did far, far better than those that were still small when the weather cooled.  My kale has just started to bolt but I’m enjoying eating the flower shoots.  I will definitely grow this again, and plant a few more plants next year as I am always surprised by how little room they actually take up.

The final winter brassica I grew was Romanesco broccoli.  It’s hard to know if this is worth growing or not.  I had a couple of heads growing nicely, looking good, but I think I expected the heads to be bigger, so I missed the harvesting window and it effectively turned into sprouting broccoli.  This is what it looked like at the point I think I should have harvested it:

At the time it did look like the head would fill out a bit more as the buds were very dense and not fully formed.  The problem was that as they filled out each section grew up and away from the head in the manner of sprouting broccoli losing that distinctive Romanesco shape.

They were my Brassicas this winter (except for the radishes and watercress both of which grow are still happily cropping).  I have already acquired some Brussel Sprout, Turnip and Kohlrabi seeds to add to my selection for next winter.  Anything else I should try?

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27 Responses to Winter Brassica Round Up

  1. We had huge success with purple sprouting broccoli this year, so much broccoli, and its purple, which is always cool. I made a soup with it and it turned a really dark green when cooked but would be interesting in a broth as the water was lightly coloured purple before I whizzed it all up. If you cut of the flowers i have found cavalo nero will jhold on for a couple of years – I had 1.5m plants at one stage – just kept plucking of the outer leaves and the flowers.

  2. Jo says:

    I don’t grow cauliflower as no one except me is really keen on it. I love broccoli, one of my favourites, and kale is always a good performer, I like both the curly varieties and cavolo nero. I’ve given up on sprouts now, I just can’t get them to grow well.

  3. Sarah says:

    I wish my kale and cauliflower plants looked half as healthy as yours! The large white butterfly population that was hit hard by the damp summer has made a sudden recovery, in my garden anyway, and eaten its way through my row of kale plants.

    • Liz says:

      The aphids are starting to descend so mine wont look healthy for much longer. The cabbage whites haven’t returned yet so I guess that is something.

  4. Andrea says:

    A shame about the red cabbage but overall a great winter harvest, I have been disapointed with my green dragon too, not even one floret!
    Seeds for next winter……………my you are organised.

  5. Daphne says:

    I’ve tried growing red cabbage before and so far not been successful. At least green cabbage seems to do fine.

  6. Maybe it’s a particularly bad red cabbage year? Mine haven’t even started to form hearts, although they were probably planted quite a bit later than yours. Slugs have been the problem with them for me, all the bottom leaves look like fine lace they have so many holes munched out of them!
    I’m going to rethink the brassicas next year. We gave them heaps more space this year than last, but the quantities of produce just aren’t there, and they take up so much room. Might do a whole carrot bed! 😉
    I do have brussels in the garden that are just starting to form the sprouts so still hopeful of a decent harvest from them. Your romanesca looks great. I bought one (for about $4!) this year, just to taste it. They’re really good!

    • Liz says:

      They are large aren’t they, having said that most winter crops take up quite a bit of room given their output. When I’ve grown carrots over winter they have tended to be frustratingly slow but then so is red cabbage.

  7. Louise says:

    Nice brassica wrap. Shame about the red cabbage – it’s such a pretty plant. I like growing celery over winter – it’s easier to keep the water up to them at that time of the year. And I love growing snow peas.

    I will prob try sprouts next year too. They are delicious straight off the plant – much better than the shop bought ones.

  8. I’m hoping the winter vrassicas do better this year than they did last! Such a shame about the red cabbage – I love red cabbage. Is it a food we both actually like?

  9. Liz, all your vegetables look so appetizing and inviting! That’s a dream to have such harvest of brassicas…

  10. Bek says:

    I would definitely second Kirsty’s vote for Purple Sprouting Broccoli – it has come in just now that my regular broccoli (variety Arcadia which I will certainly grow again) is throwing out too small a head for me to bother with picking. Last year I picked PSB from Sep through to Jan, and it was delicious every time!

    • Liz says:

      I grew PSB last year and I have to admit I got a bit frustrated with how long it took, having said that I can see how it would work really well from a succession perspective. I do like idea of growing the GSB and having the PSB kicjk in when its finishing up.

  11. Much as you protest, your cauliflower is gorgeous! I have to depend on the farmers’ markets for them and catch it when it appears, which is never frequent enough for me to tire of it.

    • Liz says:

      That’s interesting they are pretty much a year round feature here – I guess there are different parts of Victoria that are mild enough in either winter or summer and everything in between to grow them successfully.

  12. Beautiful cauliflower and broccoli! It almost makes up for the cabbage problems 🙂

  13. Jodie says:

    Just getting around to reading your post- I had exactly the same issue with my red cabbage and aphids. I have to say the aphids seem to be particularly abundant- on the red cabbage and black ones on th garlic and leeks earlier in the season. Strangely they have even appeared on my Japanese maple thats just started budding (which I have never seen before). I am really keen to try some brocoli next year. The Calabrese looks promising.

    • Liz says:

      I really enjoyed the Calabrese – I got the seed from New Gippsland Seed. The little green aphids I find annoying but I don’t mind them as much as the black ones with I always struggle to get rid of.

  14. Sydney says:

    In Sydney. Planted 6 green cabbage plants many months ago, 4 have bolted over last 2 wwek but 2 ok and the best was planted in a bucket/container! with holes at bottom on good soil.

    Fresh coleslaw soon!

    Brussel sprouts I think i planted too late and the aphids have got to them before me.

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