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Brassicas

UK Garden Centre - An overview of brassicas

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The single genus Brassica provides the cornerstone of the average vegetable plot. Botany books talk about B. bullata, B. capitata, B. gemmifera and so on, but to us they are cabbages, brussels sprouts, etc. Not all are leafy vegetables – both turnips and Swedes are brassicas and so is kohl rabi. But for the gardener the word ‘brassica’ is usually reserved for the varieties grown as greens – the all-important group which flourish so well in our climate and which share the same cultural likes and dislikes. Brassicas have been a staple part of our diet for thousands of years – long before newcomers like potatoes and runner beans came to our shores. But we must forget old prejudices – in recent years there has been a steady stream of new brassica varieties offering new tastes, and during the same period our ideas about the way to cook brassicas have also changed – the days of school cabbage and boarding house brussels sprouts should now be a thing of the past!

Secrets of success
· Do not grow brassicas on the same plot more often than one year in three. The main reason for this move-around is to avoid the build-up of soil pests and diseases which thrive on the cabbage family – the dreaded club root disease is the prime example.
· Dig deeply in autumn – the roots must be allowed to reach the water reserves well below the surface.
· Brassicas require firm soil – leave several months between digging and planting in order for the surface to consolidate.
· Lime if necessary – brassicas will disappoint if the soil is acid. Aim for a pH of 6.5-7.5.
· Transplant at the right stage and make sure that you plant firmly.
· Sprinkle Bromophos around the base of each seedling if cabbage root fly has been a problem in the past.
· Many pests and diseases can attack brassicas – treat problems as soon as they are seen.

Sowing
Leafy Brassicas that can be sown in a seedbed, then transplant to a permanent bed:
Broccoli - All varieties.
Brussels sprouts - All varieties.
Cabbage - Nearly all varieties.
Cauliflower - All varieties.
Kale - Nearly all varieties.
Leafy brassicas that can be sown where the plants are to grow to maturity: Rape kale varieties.
· As shown above, nearly all leafy brassicas are planted in a seedbed and then transferred to another part of the plot where they will grow to maturity. In this way the ‘permanent bed’ can be utilised for another vegetable until the seedlings are ready for transplanting.
· Choose a sunny but sheltered spot for the seedbed. The soil must be fertile – if it was not manured for a previous crop then add compost when digging is autumn. Before sowing rake (do not fork) the surface and add a general-purpose fertilizer. Incorporate Bromophos if cabbage root fly is known to be a nuisance in the area. Tread to remove air pockets and to make the surface firm – rake lightly and then follow the sowing instructions for the specific brassica you plan to grow.

Planting
· The permanent bed (the area where the plants will grow to maturity) should be deeply dug in autumn – ideally it will have grown peas or beans a few months earlier. If the soil has not been recently manured it is essential that compost is incorporated during this autumn digging.
· Do fork over the ground in spring – simply tread down, rake lightly and remove surface debris. A firm footing for the seedlings is essential.
· The seedlings will be ready for transplanting 5-7 weeks after sowing – look up the specific brassica for details. Water the row the day before the seedlings are to be lifted.
· Lift carefully, retaining as much soil as possible around the roots. Do not dig up too many at one time, and keep the roots covered so that they do not dry out. Mark out the planting row with string and make holes at the required distances with a trowel or dibbler – if the soil is dry fill the holes with water and begin transplanting once they have drained.
· Look up the specific plant for details of planting depth. Make sure that the plants are properly firmed in with fingers, dibber or the back of a trowel. To firm in with a dibber, insert it 2in (5cm) from the seedling, then press towards the plant so the soil covers the roots. Then perform the tug test – tug the leaf, which should tear before the plant is uprooted.
· Water the base of each transplant as soon as planting is finished – keep the rose of the watering can to ensure that the plants will not be disturbed. If the weather is warm and dry before the transplants are established, cover them with newspaper and water the soil frequently.

Brassica troubles
Kale is generally a trouble-free vegetable, but the other members of the brassica family are subject to a wide range of pests and diseases. The worst of these brassica enemies are:
Cabbage root fly
Cabbage caterpillars
Meal aphid
Whitefly
Club root
Flea beetle
Pigeons.
But you must not assume that an insect or fungus disease is the cause every time something goes wrong. The most likely cause of blown brussels sprouts, heartless cabbage and button-headed cauliflowers is you – the ground was left spongy of the seedlings were not planted firmly. You may have left acid soil un-limed or you may have planted a brassica crop in land which produced poor cabbages or cauliflowers last year. If you are new to gardening, read the appropriate section carefully before growing one of the brassicas. Other troubles are:
Downy mildew
Gall weevil
White blister (White rust)
Wire stem
Black rot
Leaf spot (ring spot)
Whiptail
Heartless cabbages
Slugs and snails
Split hearts
Blown brussels sprouts
Frost
Swede Midge
Button cauliflower
Mealy aphid
Magnesium deficiency
Manganese deficiency
Chafer grubs
Boron deficiency
Diamond-back moth
Cutworm
Cabbage stem flea beetle


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