|Written By Lara Wadsworth
Brassicas are a group of plants belonging to the Brassicaceae family, also known as the cruciferous or mustard family. These plants are valued for their edible leaves, stems, flowers, and roots. Common Brassica vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and turnips. They are most well known for their nutritional richness and diverse flavors. Brassicas are cultivated worldwide and offer a variety of culinary and health benefits. Additionally, Brassicas are appreciated for their adaptability to different climates, their role in sustainable agriculture, and their nutrient density. You will find that many superfood blends, powders, and juices feature common brassica plants. This is because of their high antioxidant components linked to healthy cell activity.
Brassica Growing Tips
Soil - Brassicas prefer well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. Plants like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and turnips thrive in slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.
Full Sun - Brassicas flourish in full sunlight, requiring at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. They generally prefer cooler temperatures, making them well-suited for cultivation in the spring and fall. These cool temperatures are often said to enhance the flavor of these vegetables, as heat causes them to become more bitter.
Water - Maintain consistent soil moisture, especially during dry periods. Consider using mulch around the plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Shade cloth can also be used to reduce local temperatures and prevent bolting during the summer months.
Nutrients - Fertilize the soil before planting with a balanced organic fertilizer, and side-dress with additional fertilizer during the growing season to support healthy plant development. Pest management is crucial, as Brassicas can be susceptible to pests like cabbage worms and aphids. Implement strategies such as companion planting, row covers, or organic insecticides to deter pests.
Harvesting Brassicas As Mature Vegetables
For vegetable harvesting, start Brassica seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Or, utilize a cold frame for fall sowing or early spring transplanting. This will allow you to fully benefit from the cool spring temperatures. Plant the seeds in a seed starting mix at the recommended depth for your chosen crop, ensuring consistent moisture and adequate light. Once seedlings are sturdy enough, transplant them into the garden with proper spacing between plants. Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings! Transplanting without allowing the young plants to adjust to the varying outdoor elements can result in devastating results.
Consider companion planting with other vegetables or herbs to enhance growth and deter pests. There are many plants that naturally help protect from pest damage and encourage healthier growth. For example, planting onions or garlic near Brassicas can help repel pests. Practicing crop rotation can also help prevent the buildup of soil-borne diseases, interupt pest cycles, and reduce nutrient depletion. To practice crop rotation, avoid consecutive planting of Brassicas in the same location. As crops of different families cycle through the growing location, pest larvae are not able to become established. When the larvae emerge from the previous season, they are met with different plants they are not interested in. This constant rotation also allows for more balanced nutrient uptake and deposit as nutrients are used in varying levels by different plant families.
Harvesting Brassicas is easy. Simply harvest when they reach the desired size. Cut broccoli heads when the buds are tight and cabbage heads at ground level. For leafy greens like kale and spinach, harvest outer leaves regularly and repeatedly. After harvesting, dispose of plant residues properly to minimize the risk of diseases, either by adding them to compost or discarding them away from the garden. Discarding leaves here and there back into the same planting bed can encourage pest activity.
Growing Brassicas as Cover Crops
Brassica cover crops, such as mustard or rapeseed, can enhance soil fertility by adding organic matter when allowed to break down and become incorporated back into the soil. You do not need to start cover crop seeds indoors ahead of time; you can simply broadcast the seeds in the desired area once outside temperatures are warm enough for the chosen seed to germinate. These seeds are not planted with the intention to harvest. Instead, they are grown to produce plant matter that will break down into organic soil matter, improve soil nutrients, and release organic pest control properties. Certain Brassicas release compounds that suppress nematodes, benefiting the soil ecosystem. Choose cover crop varieties based on the desired growth duration and purpose, whether it's winter cover, green manure, or weed suppression. Keep in mind cover crops are not the same as ground covers. Cover crops should be grown with the intention of being killed before reaching maturity.
Growing Brassicas as Sprouts
Growing sprouts is one of the easiest ways to get homegrown greens year-round. Plus, sprouts pack nutrients more densely than when harvested at maturity. Simply sprinkle a few fresh sprouts on toast, blend them into smoothies, or mix them into your favorite salads for a boost of vitamins, antioxidants, and a refreshing crunch! They can be grown from the comfort of your kitchen or on the go. Always start with high-quality Brassica seeds specifically labeled for sprouting to ensure they are clean. While these seeds are not genetically different from those labeled for garden use, they are verified as safe for culinary applications. Use clean, filtered water to prevent contamination during the sprouting process. Maintaining strict hygiene standards through the sprouting process is important to avoid bacterial contamination. Based on your preferences and scale, explore various sprouting methods, including jar or tray sprouting. Check out our True Leaf Market Sprouting Guide and blogs to get started.
Growing Brassicas as Microgreens
Microgreens are another easy way to grow vegetables indoors. Microgreens are packed with nutrients in such density that you can’t get anywhere else! In a study done by the USDA, it was found that broccoli microgreens can pack up to 40 times the nutrients found in mature vegetable harvests. While microgreens are tiny, they sure pack a mighty load. Choose a suitable growing medium such as coconut coir, soil, or hydroponic mats for optimal microgreen growth. Providing adequate light, either natural sunlight or artificial grow lights, is important to ensure vigorous growth and vibrant colors. Microgreens are harvested at the cotyledon stage for the best flavor and nutritional content. Cotyledons are the first set of leaves that emerge from direct seed growth. Sow seeds at an appropriate density to ensure proper air circulation and prevent mold or disease issues. Brassica microgreens are typically ready to harvest in about a week.
Brassicas can be used for many purposes! If you are interested in expanding your garden knowledge, understanding the diverse roles in which brassicas can be used is a great place to start. Understand and apply proper harvesting techniques for each purpose. For cover crops, incorporation timing is crucial for soil health. Always allow 3-4 weeks for cover crops to start breaking down before planting another crop. For sprouts and microgreens, harvesting at the right stage simply ensures optimal taste and nutrition. With these options, it’s always brassica season!
|Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer
I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!
About the Author
I'm Ashleigh Smith, a native to Northern Utah. I first gained a love of gardening with my grandmother as I helped her each summer. I decided to make a career of it and have recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. My studies have focused on plant production while I also have experience in Nursery & Garden Center Operations.
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