Bowing to the Demands of Brassicas

brussels sproutsWe take most brassicas (caulis, broccolis, and cabbage, especially) so much for granted that it's tempting to think they don't require any particular attention other than a standard garden bed enriched with animal manure, compost, and a scattering of lime. But, in fact, brassicas have a few special requirements, and they vary between different members of the family. I was reminded of this last week when I went out to harvest my first meal of tight, sweet Brussels Sprouts. For years I could never get these delicious little morsels to firm up. Instead, ending up with full-blown rosettes which were fit only for the chooks.

One day, someone older and wiser than me, broke the news that if I wanted tight Brussels Sprouts, I had to be cruel to be kind. Tough-love was the answer, apparently, so I set about doing the unthinkable. The following season, after planting out the seedlings, I held back on the fortnightly application of liquid donkey-pooh and seaweed which my cabbages and caulis crave. Then I put on my gumboots and (I can barely make myself type this!) stomped all around the base of my treasured seedlings to compact the ground. I kept my usual watchful eye on the aphid situation, Derris Dust in hand and, come May, I was eating Brussels Sprouts fit for a queen. That was all several years ago and it's been the same ever since.

Strangely enough, another brassica, kale, and its more in-vogue cousin, Cavolo Nero, can't get enough nourishmen,t and practically plead for liquid fertilizer throughout their entire life! I happily dish it up to them, knowing that the faster these hardy greens grow, the more tender their new leaves will be.

My next brassica challenge will be Chinese Cabbage, though its tendency to bolt to seed at a moment's notice is almost entirely dependent on the season, rather than anything I can do. I'll give them a go, in very early spring, as I always do, but it's nice to know that, when it comes to living, growing things, you can't always be in control!

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