Showing posts with label Brassicas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brassicas. Show all posts

8 Dec 2015

It's brassicas out there



It would be gratifying to be able to write about the garden in December with vibrant photos but, truth be told, there's not a lot going on.  Oh sure, the rivers of curly kale are not about to dry up any time soon, Cavolo Nero is still the champion producer of leaves for supper after nearly nine months in the ground (I don't pick every day so it has a chance to catch up) although it's looking more like a palm tree every day, calabrese heads are plumping up and the purple sprouts are looking so good I'm almost loathe to pick them.  So it's all about the brassicas at the moment.  My winter chard is a total fail, the failure being that I didn't make time to sow any seeds, ditto spinach and overwintering broad beans. As the forecast harsh winter hasn't yet materialised, I may chance a few of those seeds under cloches; I seriously doubt it will come to much but what's to lose?


I was gardening in the dark on Friday evening, as you do when stuff has kept you indoors for most of the day - and it was actually very pleasant.  Comfortably mild with a stiff breeze and plenty of light from nearby flats to light my way - one real benefit of city gardening is that it's never pitch black.  Taking my cue from plant biologist Professor Ken Thompson, I decided to cut down my raspberry canes now; the Autumn Bliss are definitely going and will be dug up next week as I need to clear the space for the veg patch redesign - my winter project.  Most of my raised beds have rotted to the point of falling apart and I've been given four new scaffolding boards (whoop whoop!) and a pile of new old-style bricks to make some paths. There's gonna be a whole lot of digging going on.  And, come spring time, lots of tulips and daffodils to start off my new cut flower patch area, if I ever get the bulbs planted … although I probably won't actually pick any of the spring flowers as I like everyone to enjoy the view.  That's the plan, let's see if there's enough available time.

I might have just lied when I said that the garden was all brassicas.  The globe artichoke that I grew from a seed (I love saying that) looks like it will need splitting. The plant started new growth in the autumn and I can see there are three plants there now.  It was huge in the summer and had to be thwacked out of the way to get past it so I'm going to try and move it. I'm not sure how easy they are to lift and divide - has anyone successfully done that or do you leave yours to get monstrously huge? Do tell, please.

I will, however, definitely be moving my Glaskins perpetual rhubarb (also grown from a seed, heheh); it's only just stopped producing huge leaves in the last few weeks and is growing in the middle of my planned flower patch so will only be tolerated in the future if it's contained in a corner or even another part of the garden - perhaps next to the Red Champagne rhubarb which I planted when the Glaskin's was still relatively manageable.

Frosty temperatures in November brought an end to my cheery nasturtiums; a few of them struggled on but I've pulled out most of them now, they look so awful when wilted by frost.  Thank goodness for scabious and nicotiana, both still flowering and making me smile along with one solitary echinacea, a few roses, heuchera's coral bells and, soon I hope, snowdrops.


Winter is such a good time to make plans and this keeps me connected with nature and the garden. How's winter shaping up for you and your garden?

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on my GMG award - as usual, all your lovely comments brought a smile to my face and left me feeling perky all day. Caro xx


25 Jul 2015

Seven Days



This time last week I was sitting at my computer in a right old blue funk. Thankfully, since then, my week has got a lot better - apart from one tiny blip of the caterpillar kind.

So why the frustration?  My local borough has an annual gardening competition. After much pondering and loathing of form filling, I decided to enter with about 8 hours to go before the deadline. The prize (should I be so lucky) is garden centre vouchers and I'd like more fruit trees. I like to do things thoughtfully so this online process (answers and photos) took a chunk out of my day.  And then at 7.14 pm (deadline midnight) and just before I'd pressed SUBMIT, the form closed down taking my application with it!  Too tired to start again that night, I gave a big sigh and started over on the Saturday morning. Just in case.



Following that dismal Friday night, Saturday was a fresh slate.  My son was working at a festival over the weekend with late shifts; in his absence, I was able to eat delicious vegetarian meals (he's a carnivore) and just relax in the evenings. Normally there's a steady stream of his friends coming and going. While it's always lovely to see them, bobbing up and down answering the doorbell is not conducive to calm.

On Monday, I spoke to the organisers of the gardening competition and was told that my entry/ies would be accepted. (The first one survived the shut down with a bit of searching.) Apparently I wasn't the only one gnashing my teeth on Friday evening. Some discussion ensued as to which category my entry should go in - environmental, individual or community - and whether each collage of photos, above, counted as one of my three images or was, in fact, bucking the system. The latter, I think. Still, no points for not trying.

Serendipity continued to flow on Tuesday when an elegant and totally fabulous bouquet arrived. This was my prize as a runner up in a Pinterest competition to win tickets to RHS Hyde Hall flower show. At times like that, I'm pleased to not be first.  Anticipating something from Interflora, I toyed with the idea of sending the bouquet elsewhere. (I don't like the idea of hothouse flowers imported from another continent.) So glad I didn't - this package was a visual treat from the moment it arrived. A slim elegant box opened to reveal carefully picked and packed roses, lisianthus (new to me), eucalyptus and limonium with a card giving tips on arranging and care of the flowers. + a relevant quote hidden under the flowers. Gorgeous.



Wednesday was City Farm day. I'd taken a couple of small children to see the brand new piglets; they (the pigs, not the children) were huddled together asleep in a far dark corner so we were thwarted.  Instead, we were invited into a new visitor pen to stroke and feed some goats which was much more interactive and fun with both children coming away glowing from the experience.

Thursday. Aaah, lovely Thursday. I was up early to go to the passport office on my son's behalf (he's away at yet another festival).  On the return journey the train could take me no further than Camden Town. Walking the rest of the way, I discovered the Oxfam bookshop in lower Kentish Town. I can't resist a bargain and the first thing I saw was a Carol Klein veg book for £2 which I'd been about to order on Amazon. How lucky was that!  I picked up several other books but had to limit myself to five, bearing in mind the walk ahead of me. (Even that was a stretch!)



And the day got better: in the afternoon, as I set about starting to prune the plum trees, I made an amazing discovery.  High up in the centre of the tree, I have a plum. Yes, just the one, a big fat beast of a fruit.  I searched the trees for any more but no. Just one.  Still, it would be churlish to chop the tree down now, wouldn't it?



The rest of the day was spent weeding, deadheading, planting … and picking off about 30 caterpillars from my brassicas. Rather obviously, these were Large Cabbage Whites and Small Cabbage Whites. No, I didn't net - a lesson learned too late. They also like nasturtiums so had landed in the perfect spot. Although the damage looks dreadful, I think the plant should be okay, especially if I keep an eye out from now on!  (Four more had appeared by Friday morning.)



And so to Friday. With the promised heavy rain in my thoughts, I started in the garden very early and managed three hours of planting, picking and tidying before the rains started properly.  The water butts are all but empty so I absolutely relished the continuous steady downpour of water, soaking into the ground. That should keep the plants happy for a while. I believe we're in for another dose on Sunday which to my mind will be excellent.

+ to bring the week full circle, I was contacted late afternoon on Friday by the organisers of the aforementioned gardening competition with the news that my garden has been shortlisted!  I'll be receiving a judging visit next Friday which is a bit scary - although lovely Chris Collins, the ex-Blue Peter gardener, will be with the Mayor and other judges. I think I'll still be nervous though.

10 May 2015

Growing winter greens; eat your garden all year round

Red Russian kale, more tender than usual curly kales and almost ornamental in looks.

It might seem a bit soon to be thinking about winter but here's a quick reminder for anyone wanting to grow brassicas (Purple Sprouting broccoli, calabrese, romanesco cauliflower, Cavolo Nero or other kales) for eating from autumn through to spring next year: Start your seeds off now.  (Having said that, mine were started three weeks ago.)

I've sown my seeds into space-saving peat-free jiffy's, those little discs that plump up with water into planting modules. I can get 16 onto an Ikea plastic plate which then acts as a drip tray. Once they've got their first true leaves, I repot each module straight into a 3inch square pot of soil based compost and that's where they stay for the next few months, usually on my balcony where I can keep them well watered, yet hardened off.

In late July/early August, I'll plant the little brassicas out into the beds that the peas and beans have vacated (see note below), five to a one square metre bed, each plant next to a stake or cane that will support it as it grows. Because they'll grow relatively slowly, I'll underplant each brassica with a row of chard or spinach. With luck and good weather, I'll be picking baby leaves from these rows before winter but, even so, the plants will establish a good root system and grow away quickly when the soil warms in spring and lighter days return.

As winter approaches, I'll mulch around the base of each plant for a bit of protection and to put some nutrients back into the soil. Last year I grew autumn broccoli, christmas broccoli, early spring broccoli, etc and managed to pick floret stems or leaves from the garden throughout winter.  Cavolo Nero and Russian Kale stand well throughout even the coldest weather and my last broccoli plant will feed me until mid-May.  A little bit of cash spent on seeds has saved me a small fortune at the supermarket plus the quality of fresh, organic home-grown produce is outstanding. I can get quite snooty eyeing up (and passing by) the veg in the supermarket!

Brassicas like PSB have got a reputation for growing really large. To be honest, yes they do - but, by the time I plant my potted brassicas out, there's very little else growing apart from herbs - or you can tuck the small brassicas in among late peas.  Give it a try as I firmly believe that growing good veg is achievable by everyone, whether starting out or more experienced, and the joy of picking your own veg right through winter will put a smile on your face even in the darkest, coldest months! (If you're anything like me.)

Top to bottom:
Calabrese, October
Calabrese, early December
Purple Sprouting Broccoli, early December
PSB, early February
Cavolo Nero kale, early February

And there's a bonus - at the end of their growth, the last florets will burst into flower giving a much needed food source for bees. It's a win:win situation.



Note: Peas and beans fix nitrogen back into the soil through nodules on their roots so it's best to cut off the old plants at soil level when clearing the bed; the remaining roots continue to deposit nitrogen into the soil as they decompose, giving a lovely feed of nutrients to the next plants in the bed, i.e. your brassicas.

Apologies to readers of this blog who are already very well informed about growing winter greens - I've posted this as there was interest in the subject after one of my late winter blogs.  I'm hoping that this information will help at least one more person to grow their own PSB this winter!

A postscript:
I buy brassica seeds in small packets from More Veg as I don't have to fill an allotment with plants so just a few plants does me. (I'm growing 10 for late summer/winter/spring and have 4 currently growing in the garden.)
Carol Klein recommends the following varieties in her book Grown Your Own Veg: Arcardia for late summer; Fiesta for early autumn; Rudolph, early maturing purple spears for midwinter. Also Belstar, Red Arrow (both long season plants) and Trixie, high yielding and compact.  Out of these, I'm growing Rudolph (as well as Red Admiral, Calabrese Green Sprouting and Summer Purple broccoli plus Cavolo Nero, Curly Red and Red Russian kales). 

18 Jun 2012

Perennial Cauliflowers, my growing year

Almost a year ago I was intrigued to discover that Victoriana Nurseries in Kent offer plug plants of a perennial cauliflower that they call 'Cut and Come Again' and which are described as producing up to ten mini heads from each plant.  I imagined that these would be tiny 'designer' heads of cauliflower when I planted the plugs 90cm apart in my walled fruit border. The reality was slightly different, but the journey to maturity was fascinating.

It's a source of amusement to me that, rather as the fashion industry has to have 'this season's colour', now that veg growing is the trend du jour there are seasonal topics here also.  Last year it was edible flowers, with some supermarkets offering tiny salad bags of flowers at exorbitant prices. This year's buzz seems to be perennial veg, as mentioned in numerous books and magazines. Shortly after I planted the cauli plugs, I was invited to a little soirĂ©e of gardeners and garden writers and managed to silence the room when I mentioned that I was growing perennial cauliflowers.  Gracious, what a novelty! Perennial veg!  So, yes, just once I have managed to be on the forefront of something trendy although, of course, perennial veg is not new at all. Martin Crawford, Director of the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon and best known for creating his forest garden, has written a book on the subject which I'll review this week because it's worth knowing about.

I've also come across this vegetable in Alys Fowler's book 'The Edible Garden'. She describes it as an old-fashioned cottage garden vegetable and writes:
'Perennial broccoli is actually a cauliflower masquerading as broccoli. Each spring it produces a small, central cauliflower; cut this off and it sends the plant into production of many broccoli-like side shoots.'
The only known variety is called Perennial Nine-Star Broccoli (due to the number of side shoots) which is the type supplied to me by Victoriana Nurseries.

It's recommended to place the plants in a sheltered position although they proved to be extremely vigorous in the funnelling winds of the veg patch fruit borders. They needed staking as they grew to be over 4 ft tall and, if left to go over and flower at the end of the season, can reach over 5 feet and be an absolute bee magnet.  Mine were well over 3 ft in width, which somewhat surprised me as the planting distance is advised to be 90cm. To get round this, I kept whipping the very large lower leaves off - they were drooping and providing shelter for wintering slugs and snails anyway.  The plants will go on producing for five years so it makes sense in the fourth year to save the seed from one plant and then start at least one new plant each year for a continued supply.

These plugs were incredibly easy to grow, one small hole dug, a bit of mulching and a bit of staking - obviously the hard work had been done for me by the suppliers! However, having spaced them according to the enclosed instructions, I realise now that those recommendations are fine for a field or allotment but not when the plants are sharing the space with fruit trees. It all started to get a bit overcrowded by April but that's okay as I'll try and move a couple of them now that they've been cut back, all bar one (keeping the bees happy).

I was fascinated to see that the caulis all grew at different rates, planted north to south in the same soil.  The most southerly plant (in a 7 metre row) grew fastest, largest and produced a head before the others.  Some of the plants produced mostly florets, the largest produced just the one cauli head. I suspect the reason for this is the British weather - a warm winter followed by lots of sun, lots of rain... hardly the typical spring conditions needed by the plant.  The heads and florets came thick and fast once the plant started cropping (as did the grey woolly aphids).  I had plenty to offer friends and neighbours but would have preferred a longer cropping season because the secondary shoots were extremely delicious, whichever way they were cooked.

Victoriana sell the plug plants in sets of 5 which would satisfy a family of 4 (or more) cauli lovers for at least a month - more if the weather permits. (I had nearly two months of pickings.) You do need to watch out for woolly aphids, be prepared to squirt them with an organic spray and give the florets a good wash in water with a splash of white vinegar added to dislodge any bugs.  Strangely, the pigeons didn't seem to bother with the plants beyond the occasional peck at the leaves, perhaps because someone keeps chucking bread crusts for them. In another situation, I would net the plants for protection.

What I have enjoyed most is the sight of veg growing in the middle of winter, the availability of freshly picked stems in early spring and the ability to harvest just one or two stems if I fancy a few steamed cauli florets for a snack lunch. If, like me, you're partial to a bit of cauliflower, this is the plant I'd recommend growing - plant it once and, with an annual mulching of the soil, you're set up for spring veg without further ado.

If you're interested in growing perennial cauliflowers yourself, plugs can be bought from Victoriana Nurseries here.  I planted mine at the end of July, probably a tad late, but still reaped the rewards in the following spring.  The warm extended autumn last year no doubt contributed to the plants' excellent growth up to the cold snap in early 2012 and therefore a good subsequent harvest.

I photographed the plant's development throughout the year - who could resist photographing a monstrously huge plant in December when all else is dying off? I've chosen 12 photos which chart the progress and have squeezed them into 4 rows.  Apologies for the smallness of each frame but you'll get the general idea!

Cauliflower plugs planted 22 July 2011.
Photos from left: 8 inches high 6 weeks after planting; 15 inches high, 9 weeks after planting; right pic taken 2nd December, plant now about 2 ft tall.

Frozen caulis in early Feb 2012; shoots forming in the leaf bracts mid-March; statuesque plant by early April.

First 4" head beginning of April; sprouting shoots end of April; still edible but starting to 'go over' early May.

Cloud of bolted florets by early June, which had turned to flowers by mid-June. 3 week old stump resprouting.

6 Dec 2011

Beautiful brassicas

Earlier this year, Victoriana Nurseries sent me a parcel of veg seedlings for the garden.  I've already written of the much anticipated cut-and-come again cauliflowers.  I'm not entirely sure what to look out for to see signs of cauliflower heads forming but I assume that the lovely rich soil they're growing in will encourage them to carry on and do the right thing.  They're looking wonderfully strong and  healthy and must measure at least three feet across which seems like a very good thing to me.

Cut and come again cauliflower

Also in the parcel were Tozer brussels sprouts (and rambling strawberries but, for now, let's just talk brassicas). How exciting to grow your own christmas dinner sprouts - and purple ones at that! More by luck than judgement, they were planted into a patch of well-manured soil - which I now know is exactly the right thing for them.  I wish I'd known to plant them deep (up to the first leaves for stability) but they seem to be doing okay as I staked them young.  In fact, I think they're really rather beautiful.

Sprout tops


I would have photographed the tiny sprouts forming but they're in shadow as the plants are between a raised bed and a low wall.  The tops have been catching my eye for a while now - the colours are stunning as the leaves of Tozer are richly veined with bright purple.  I'm not sure my pic does them justice but the shot that I missed last month was when bright orange nasturtiums had worked their way next to the plants.  The orange/purple contrast was sublime but it was too dark at dusk for photography so that one has to stay in my head.  The tops can apparently be cooked and eaten like cabbage - Sue at Backlane Notebook has been experimenting with cutting off the tops for eating.  I'm not sure whether this will inhibit the sprouts' growth or whether this will divert energy back into the sprouts.  Does anyone have any experience of this? I'd love to know as I don't want to waste the delicious tops!
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