’ Tis the season to be cauli
IF the cabbages and broccoli seedlings you planted in late autumn or early winter didn’t come to much and are now flowering furiously, pull them out.
They’ve had it because they’ve finished growing. Even if you keep cutting off flower heads they’ll still keep trying to produce more.
The most common reasons for failure are either getting them started too late, or extracold wet conditions towards the end of winter.
It happens to all of us. I’ve just uprooted a barrow- load, complete with a small population of clinging snails. So I had a crunching good time as well.
Any brassica seedlings which were planted in late July and August should be well settled in now and with luck, and a weekly dose of weak fish emulsion, you’ll be eating them before the white cabbage butterfly caterpillars get a chance to start munching.
Just the same, it’s a great time to plant a new lot of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale seedlings or even to sow seeds.
But not in the same bed where others of the same tribe have been growing over the past couple of years. And careful soil preparation for these gloriously greedy plants is essential.
Brassicas love any kind of manure, provided it is well- rotted, as these leafy vegetables have a special need for high- nitrogen fertilisers and the best of these is any kind of totally decomposed poultry manure or that smelly pelletised stuff we can buy at most garden centres.
A great way to prepare to enrich any brassica bed right now is to first spread decomposed sheep or cow manure in a thick, 50mm deep layer over the surface.
Then sprinkle chicken manure or pellets over the top a double handful to each square metre and work the lot in deeply using a strong fork.
If the soil is dry, give it a good soaking and leave everything to settle for a day or so.
A punnet of cabbage or any other kind of brassica seedlings costs about $ 3 and that’s brilliant value. Just the same, don’t be tempted to select the biggest, floppiest plants on display. It’s those little, insignificant ones that grow best. Big seedlings tend to suddenly collapse, especially when planted out during warm, sunny and breezy weather.
Small seedlings never look back no matter what the weather is like.
Plant seedlings about three- quarters of a metre apart. They need space because it gives them a chance to grow fast. I always surround each newly- planted seedling with a ring of blood and bone.
This stuff will have broken down and will be feeding the soil just when the plants are big enough to start demanding even more nutrients.
And every 10 days, every seedling should get a generous dose of weak fish emulsion as part of normal watering. Some brassica varieties have special needs. Cauliflower plants usually need a micronutrient called molybdenum ( trace element). This is in short supply in most Tasmanian soils but luckily, only the tiniest amount is needed. Just the same, if cauliflower plants are deficient, they grow in a really weird way with leaves stretched and twisted, with small curds a disorder known as whiptail. We can buy sodium molybdate at most garden centres by the packet for a few dollars.
Dilution rate is enormous. Just two teaspoons of this micro- nutrient in 10 litres of water is plenty. I also add the same amount of magnesium sulphate ( Epsom salts) and sprinkle the solution over all cauliflower seedlings. The magnesium helps prevent the development of hollow stalks.
If you are also growing swedes or turnips, they appreciate a drink of the brew too.
This treatment ensures rapid, healthy growth for earlier harvesting, even before Christmas. That means extra flavour and better nutrition because of an extra- high vitamin and mineral content.