Little effort, maximum return
THE family brassicaceae is the largest in the vegie plot. It includes such tasty plants as broccoli, caulifl ower, tatsoi, winter cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, pak choy, kale, kohlrabi and mizuna as well as radish and swede and many, many more. Brassicas are fi lled to the brim with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients and some research even suggests they can protect against macular degeneration. They taste pretty good too. Brassicas require a rich, free- draining soil in a sunny position.
As a rule they like the soil to be sweet, that is alkaline. Above 6.5 on the pH scale is a must but around 7 would be perfect.
Liming a couple of weeks prior to planting is best although it can be done at planting time or even once the plants are already in the ground.
I mix even parts garden lime and dolomite lime and apply at a rate roughly a handful every square metre.
Do be careful not to over lime though, as this can lead to boron defi ciency. In heavy soils that drain poorly, cultivate well with a fork before planting.
Adding organic matter in the form of compost and manures is a good idea before planting in any soil.
Brassicas are greedy crops needing plenty of nitrogen for good leaf growth so be generous with the blood and bone.
Fish emulsion is a great fertiliser to give plants a quick hit as they need it.
This is a relatively hardy group of plants but they do have their fair share of potential pests and diseases.
Growing brassicas in winter will mean a lot of these pests are less active or, as in the case of the cabbage white butterfl y, not active at all.
These white butterfl ies and their fat green caterpillar larvae are a pest that gardeners who have grown brassicas will have strong feelings for.
If in early spring your crops start getting attacked by these fi ends you can use Derris or Spinosad, which are very effective organic controls.
Covering your crop with fi ne netting can help prevent the butterfl ies from landing on your crop so they are unable to lay their eggs and cause damage.
Bacillus thuringiensis is an effective biological control method but I prefer soft soap which can be purchased from chemists or hardware stores. It is safe and easy to apply and works by clogging up the breathing parts of the insects. It also has the added benefi t of being extremely effective against cabbage whitefly and aphids, two other problem insects.
Club root on brassicas is a fungal problem which once in the soil can remain there for up to eight years.
Symptoms are wilting leaves and poor head development with nodules forming on the roots.
Making sure your soil is well limed will help prevent this but should you be unfortunate enough to contract it, remove affected plants and throw in the rubbish.
Practise good garden hygiene, crop rotation and select clubroot- resistant varieties.
Powdery mildew can also affect plants but by controlling sap- sucking insects like aphids, watering regularly during dry periods and avoiding overhead watering it can usually be prevented.
It is well worth growing brassicas over the winter because of the high likelihood of a bumper crop with little effort.
With so many to choose from and their relatively hardy nature you can’t go past them as a tasty and nutritious winter crop.