A GROWING CONCERN: For a winning garden, add Brassica to your basket

WELL, WE ARE down to the Elite Eight in basketball. And now, you can pick your own winners from the Brassica bracket, and to help with the selection and analysis is the rest of the lineup.

1. Broccoli.

Classified in the Italica group of Brassica oleracea; derives as well from wild cabbages.

The Romans cherished this plant some 2,000 years ago for its high nutritional value.

The word “broccoli” is actually Italian, derived from the plural “broccolo,” which means “the flowering top of a cabbage.”

Like nearly all Brassica, broccoli thrives in cool climates, with mild evenings and soil temperatures of less than 80 degrees, making your vegetable garden the ideal place to grow this amazing plant.

Broccoli grows bi-annually but is harvested the first of the year as the head develops.

Many varieties of broccoli, especially when the head is cut off short, produce many a small floret (mini-mini-head) around the main stock for weeks.

Broccoli should be sown or planted in 10- to 14-day successions in soil not too rich in manure or nitrogen, wherein rampant vegetative growth will occur in lieu of the edible head.

Weed and cultivate the soil regularly.

Broccoli should be kept moist in dry spells for crisp, flavorful produce.

Incredibly high in vitamin C, dietary fiber and micronutrients, boiling it for more than a few minutes (four to five) reduces the nutrient value by 30 percent to 50 percent, but other cooking methods offer smaller nutrient losses.

2. Cauliflower.

Brassica oleracea are the same species and share many structural features, but cauliflower produces an inflorescent meristem called a “curd.”

Some varieties have leaves that curl inward, shading and covering the curd.

Ones that do not should have their inner leaves tied together for sun protection, otherwise the curd will turn an unattractive malted brown or greenish color.

There are four distinct types of cauliflower:

A. Italian — including the green, purple, yellow and orange cultivars and the ancestral forms.

B. Northwest European — developed in France during the 19th century, are great for winter, early spring and late fall production.

C. Northern European — These varieties are used widely in Europe and America for summer and early fall production and were developed in 19th century Germany and include the ever-popular “snowball.”

D. Asian — Tropical cauliflowers used in China and India and bred in the 19th century. The orange cauliflower “cheddar” and “orange bouquet” have 25 times the vitamin C of other white types. All curds eaten raw contain 13 different vitamins and minerals. Plant a few every 10 days in a hummus, rich, well drained soil and keep uniformly moist during their entire growing period. They freeze very well.

3. Brussels sprouts.

Believe it or not, this plant was probably first grown in Brussels, Belgium, in the 13th century and moved quickly throughout northern Europe because of its requirement of mild temperatures (45 to 70 degrees, with best yields at 59 to 64 degrees) for good production.

They take 90 to 180 days to mature, and are most flavorful and sweet when harvested after a good frost.

Edible sprouts grow along the long stalk and ripen from the lower to the upper, so each stock can be harvested for a few weeks.

They freeze great and store well, but most people have been turned off by a sulfurous odor and bitter taste that is caused by overcooking, which releases “glucosinolate sinigrin” and causes the smell.

Steam or boil for only six or seven minutes.

Brussels sprouts contain 15 essential vitamins and nutrients, and like most Brassica, are high in dietary fiber.

4. Turnips.

Brassica rapa is a temperate climate-loving root crop originating in Asia and Europe and was known in Greek and Roman times.

It was, and is still, produced for both human and livestock consumption, depending on the variety.

The leaves sprout directly above the in-ground root, with no visible crown.

People also eat the very young, small turnip leaves, which are a common side dish in the south.

Baby turnips, which don’t have multicolored varieties, are much smaller and are eaten whole, leaf and all.

In 1881, the Household cyclopedia said this about turnips: “The benefits derived from turnip husbandry are of great magnitude; light soils are cultivated with profit and facility; abundance of food is provided for man and beast.”

5. Rutabaga.

Brassica napus napabrassica is from Sweden and was derived from crossbreeding cabbage and turnip plants. Rutabaga means “root bag” in Swedish.

You can roast them, use them in soups or eat them raw, boiled, steamed or mashed.

They will thrive in your garden, with the root protruding halfway out of the ground.

They are a long crop of 90-plus days, so plan accordingly.

6. Bok choy.

Brassica rapa or Chinese cabbage. There are two distinct groups of bok choy, napa cabbage (pekinsis) and (chinensis).

Both are used as leafy greens.

Bok choy means “white vegetable.”

Bok choy is succulent in both stem and leaf, and it’s great steamed, boiled or stir-fried. It is abundant in vitamins A and C.

It is easily grown on the Peninsula and co-mingles well in the garden with other vegetables.

Plant or sow every two weeks.

Well, there you go, plant many a Brassica and hold your own tournament to determine your kitchen table winner!

And please … do stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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