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?