Growing brassicas from seed

Growing brassicas from seed in June can seem a strange think to do when you're surrounded by the smell of roses but by sowing a few choice brassicas in early summer means you can have delicious and interesting meals through those cold winter months.

The secret to growing brassicas from seed is to choose interesting varieties and unusual colours.  I find otherwise when the cold weather sets in I don't want to trudge out in the wind and rain to harvest a drab brussel sprout and all my conscientious sowing ends up on the spring compost heap, a complete waste of time.

You need to make picking and cooking brassicas from your late autumn and winter garden fun. I don’t just grow ‘Early Purple’ sprouting broccoli, I also grow white and similarly amongst the leeks, I now sow tall, stately white ‘Hannibal’ mixed up with silvery-purple ‘St Victor’. This has to be one of the most elegant of all winter veg.

I can’t wait for my first autumn plate of the crimson, ‘Red Rubine’ Brussel sprout. This Brussel is an amazing looking thing, like an intense blob of paint just squeezed from its tube. Eat it with roast beef, with a splash of carrot orange and deep chard green. ‘Red Rubine’ has an interesting flavour, the usual brassica taste with an overlay of hazelnuts.

Purple Kohl rabi is another beauty. I love the look of its silvery-green leaves in the garden, poking out above swollen balloons of bright pink-purple, which match the central leaf stem. I steam it and cut it up, its purple rimmed flesh into four segments like a chocolate orange. We eat a big plate of them as a starter, with a good dollop of hollandaise plonked on top of the lot. The earthiness of the Kohl rabi is a great contrast to the richness of the eggy, buttery sauce.

You can grow the fashionable and elegant, black Tuscan kale, Cavolo Nero, but I prefer the less well known, ‘Red Russian’. It has a tenderer texture and a less bitter taste, producing an endless supply of cut-and-come-again leaves for five or six month at a stretch. I pick the leaves small and use them in a winter Salade Mesclun and I’ve now got lots of good recipes for fully-sized kale. Did you know that it is often kale that is used in Chinese restaurants for making so called seaweed? You shred the leaves finely and then deep fry them in very hot sunflower or groundnut oil. Don’t cook too much at one time, or it doesn’t crisp up. Drain the strands on kitchen paper and then scatter sea salt and soft brown sugar mixed together over the top.

You need to think about sowing these winter veg- brassicas, leeks and a good block of chard - in June, which may seem strange when you are surrounded by the smell of roses but sowing at this time will help keep you going through the winter.

With the garden chocker-block full of peas, beans and potatoes, I prefer to sow all these things inside. I’m sowing mine in mini coir pots with an expanding coir pellet already inside. The roots can push out easily though the pot sides when you plant them and they don’t have the environmental costs of peat based Jiffy 7’s. These plants all suit being sown into modules in this way, with brassicas in particular hating root disturbance. It’s just two seeds into each miniature pot. If both germinate, remove one, leaving the other to grow on with lots of its own space,soon ready to be planted outside.

As gaps appear in the garden I can slot in these vegetables. The brassicas are going in to a patch in the new garden when the soil is still to be prepared. I’ll put them in with plenty of well rotted manure or mushroom compost- these plants love it rich. Firm soil is also essential for good brassicas. They are tall plants which shallow roots, so they need a compact soil to help them stand upright. Bash the soil down with the back of a spade and walk around again and again. If your trowel bends when planting, then the soil is just about firm enough! After you’ve got your plants in, do the same again, trampling the ground around their roots with your feet.

And the last thing to remember, to avoid clubroot disease, is not to plant brassicas in the same ground for three years.