There are many good reasons that brassicas should be the stars of your cool weather vegetable garden. Brassicas are members of the mustard family and include popular vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and the new superstar of the group kale. Studies have shown that they are nutritional “heavyweights” and are loaded with vitamin c, iron, potassium and calcium. They are a great source of soluble fiber and many of their nutritional components have significant anti-cancer properties as well immune system enhancers. Just keep in mind that most of their nutritional benefit comes from consuming these vegetables raw, but if you do need to cook them try steaming rather than boiling them.
Written records show that these vegetables have been grown as far back as at least Greek and Roman times, but they have become increasingly popular with home gardeners over the past 15 to 20 years. All of these plants require a very rich and fertile soil which has been enhanced by compost or manure and in less fertile soils they will require regular fertilization to help them grow to their full potential. They are particularly well suited for fall gardens as they grow best in cool climates and even though they are frost resistant it is said that frost helps enhance their flavor. Their hardy nature enables them to extend the garden season well into the fall.
Growing brassicas is not without its challenges; they are susceptible to pests such as cabbage worms, cut worms and aphids, but the cool weather of the fall helps to keep these pests at bay. Slugs and snails can also be a problem, but snail traps or containers of beer can help take care of these critters. Additionally, the use of floating row covers can provide a physical barrier against these pests as well as deer which also like to feast on these vegetables. Brassicas are also at risk from soil borne diseases which can remain in the ground for years. This makes crop rotation very important and these vegetables should not be planted in the same place season after season.
One nice benefit of these vegetables is the extended harvest season that they provide. For example, once you harvest the main head of broccoli or cauliflower make sure you don’t pull the entire plant yet. There are often side shoots that develop which provide additional harvesting opportunities. They also can be stored for extended periods of time and many of these vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower and kale will freeze very well.
Brassicas are healthy and tasty and while they can be somewhat challenging to grow the benefits of brassicas make the effort well worthwhile.