What are Brassicas and Growing Brassicas

What are Brassicas

Brassicas are members of the cabbage family are highly bred and very specialised, needing rich soil and plenty of lime.

They are all prone to clubroot disease so if you do not have it in your soil never bring in any brassica plants. Once present, clubroot is almost incurable. If you must buy brassica plants, choose only those grown in sterile compost. Wallflowers and stocks can carry the disease and it may be introduced with muck, so compost it thoroughly before use. Clubroot can be decreased in virulence by liming the plot very heavily. And you can give your crops a head start by raising them in pots filled with sterile compost, so that the infected soil does not touch the young roots.

Growing Brassicas

Although brassicas are best sown direct, they can be started in small pots. The most reliable crops are sown in a seed bed, thinned to three inches apart, lifted and planted back again when they are about three inches high. They are then transplanted to their final site when they have a couple of pairs of real leaves. All brassicas suffer badly from bird damage, so use black cotton or cloches while they are small.

They benefit from herbs such as chamomile, dill, peppermint, rosemary and sage nearby to help confuse their pests. One old companion idea was to plant wormwood or southernwood with the cabbages to drive away the cabbage white butterflies. It worked, but the leaf exudations poisoned the soil, lowering yields significantly.

Generally brassicas grow well with peas, celery, potatoes, onions and dwarf beans, but not near rue, runner beans, lettuce or strawberries.

Cabbage rootfly attacks them when they are transplanted, so make collars up to a foot square out of cardboard, old carpet underlay or roofing felt. With a slit to the centre of the collar, they can be pushed round the stem of the seedling brassica and laid flat on the ground to prevent the fly laying its eggs in the soil by the stem. The loathed caterpillars can be hand-picked or sprayed with Bacillus thuringiensis, or the adults can be kept off with nets. Whitefly, which are different to the ones in greenhouses, are not much of a problem but can be controlled with soft soap if they start to increase as can aphid attacks. Flea beetle makes little pinholes in the seedling leaves, keep the area wet to discourage them.

When planting out brassicas, mix a handful of sieved garden compost, seaweed and calcified seaweed in – with the soil you return to the planting hole. The brassicas are exceptionably good for our health and are the most reliable over-wintering crops available in the spring. They all need sowing in spring and transplanting a couple of feet apart or so by early summer. Read the packets carefully. It’s very hard to save true seed.

Cabbages are terminal buds and to get them to swell without opening is a marvel of controlling nature. Constant unchecked growth in rich, moist conditions is required. Cabbages can be produced for use every day of the year — some can be dose planted for small heads. In early spring, a liquid, feed can be applied to get slow over-wintered greens moving again, but don’t overdo it as this spoils the flavour.

Epicurean attentions

Don’t cut all a cabbage in one go. Cut a section out and cover the rest of the head with foil, as it keeps fresher in the garden than in the fridge. All cabbages may produce a bonus crop of little ones if the root is left when the head is cut and a cross made in the top of the stem. However, this is not worthwhile if the ground is needed for another crop.

When hard frosts threaten, pull the winter cabbages up, roots and all, and hang them upside down in a cool, frost-free shed or cover them in straw and a plastic bag. For spring cabbages sow ‘Offenham 2’, ‘Flower of Spring’ and ‘Spring Hero’ in late summer, plant out in early autumn and protect against harsh weather.


What are Brassicas and Growing Brassicas Sprouting broccoli are useful spring varieties that throw many small heads instead of one big one. The popular calabrese is an autumn broccoli. All these are very highly bred and require rich conditions and heavy soil to form their swollen immature flowerbuds. All of these do best sown directly in situ, but with care can be started off in small pots and planted out well before their root system fills the compost. They need to be at least two foot apart each way and three for the sprouters.

Epicurean attentions

Break the surrounding leaves over the curd to prevent the sun turning it yellow.


Cauliflowers are really cauliflowers only during the warm months — the winter-hardy ones are botanically broccoli which are tougher than true cauliflowers. They are the most highly bred and the most difficult of the family to grow well. The part we eat is an enormous multiple-flowered head suspended in the bud stage. Any check or damage will lead to ‘button’ heads. There are red and green cauliflowers and dwarf ones that take less space. They all require rich, moist soil to do well; do not expect good results on light soils. Sowing dates are critical, so read the packet! They need to be at least two foot apart each way, three for big heads. With successional sowings of different varieties cauliflowers can be had most of the year but it is much more difficult to get all of these to do well than for cabbages.

Epicurean attentions

Subject to the same problems as the other brassicas, cauliflowers need most attention as the shape and texture of their heads makes pest problems more detrimental than for, say, cabbage where the outer leaves can be discarded. When the curd starts to swell, bend side leaves over to keep the light from yellowing it.


Kale is the hardiest of all brassicas and will feed you with tasty greens, raw or cooked, in spring when all else fails. It is nutritious, fairly resistant to clubroot and cabbage root fly, and rarely eaten by birds. Sow in late spring and plant in early summer. Epicurean attentions Try the smallest leaves chopped fine with the first chives and parsley in mayonnaise on buttered toast.

Brussels Sprouts

What are Brassicas and Growing Brassicas - brussels sprouts One of the hardier brassicas, Brussels sprouts have the family tendencies differing mainly in a tolerance for runner beans and a liking for really firm soil. They need to be two to three feet apart and in loose soil are best in threes to later make a tripod tied together at the top ready for the windiest weather.

Epicurean attentions

If you want really firm, tight sprouts plant extra deep and extra firm. If you want the sprouts to swell more quickly nip out the terminal shoot — it’s a tasty dish on its own.

Brussels sprouts can be available from autumn till spring if several varieties are grown. Sow successional varieties from early spring till early summer, transplant by mid-summer in well-firmed soil and plant them extra deep. Grow ‘Early Half Tall’ (early), ‘Seven Hills’ (mid), ‘Fortress’ and ‘Rampart’ (late). If you love sprouts then try Noisette which produces tiny nutty ones, and ‘Rubine’ which are red like red cabbage but also small. The tops can be eaten as spring greens.

06. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on What are Brassicas and Growing Brassicas


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