Seed list 2014 – part 3 – brassicas

This third article in the series on our seed list looks at brassicas, a family that I am generally not quite so keen on, which is a little unfortunate as this family offers a wide range of vegetables that are very nutritious and often available in late winter and early spring when little else is cropping. I do not really like swede, and grow them mainly for the Finnish Christmas dish of kålrotslåda, although other members of family like them. Turnips find some limited use in our kitchen, and we prefer them raw to cooked. I do not really like broccoli, but grow it for CT because she really enjoys it. I sometimes grow some sprouts for the same reason. I quite enjoy raw cauliflower, but do not like it cooked at all. CT enjoys it though, so I usually grow a few. Radish are also brassicas, but in this case CT does not like them much, whilst I quite enjoy their crisp texture and peppery flavour. So all of these I grow in limited quantities. I find much more use for kale and cabbages, and especially like braised red cabbage and coleslaw, which I most often make in the continental style with vinegar and oil rather than mayonnaise.

Cabbages

I have always been a bit poor at planning for spring crops, but Durham Early makes a good spring cabbage and I ought to grow a few more this year, with one or two sowings in the summer. Our most commonly grown cabbages are Golden Acre and Copenhagen Market. These are both good cabbages for summer and autumn use that make excellent coleslaw. There is probably no reason to grow both in one season, as they serve the same purpose, but we currently have seed of both so will be planting a few of each again this year. They reliably form tightly packed, crisp heads, with a good texture and flavour. This year we also have some seed of Filderkraut, a German heirloom that produces large, pointed cabbages that are grown for sauerkraut in their original locale of Filder, near Stuttgart. I do wonder whether the four foot wide beds are a suitable place for such a large cabbage, and may plant a few in one of the borders instead.

We have grown several sorts of red cabbage, which we usually enjoy braised, but the traditional Red Drumhead is hard to beat. In our experience it is reliable and robust, making for good sized tightly packed heads with excellent culinary properties, keeping a good colour even when braised for a long time. Generally grown for later in the year, Ormskirk makes for a good savoy type.

  • Durham Early
  • Golden Acre
  • Copenhagen Market
  • Filderkraut
  • Red Drumhead
  • Ormskirk

Swede, turnip, and kohlrabi

In previous years we have grown modern non-hybrid varieties such as Ruby and Brora. The latter provided us with the best harvest, making large roots of good quality. This year, though, we have seed of an old variety, Champion Purple Top, which is a little hard to come by here. Even though I am not fond of swede, I am quite keen to see how this one performs, and whether it lives up to its favourable description. We usually grow a few turnips throughout the season, although they find limited use in our kitchen, and are usually turned into some sort of salad. The old favourite Purple Top Milan produces nice roots with not too strong a flavour. Kohlrabi, also known as German turnip, forms a swollen round stem that is fairly mild in flavour and best harvested when small. Like turnips, we only grow a small quantity, and use them in various salads. I have no idea what they are like when cooked. They come in various shades of purple and pale green but the pigment is only on the skin, which is tough and needs peeling anyway. This year we are growing White Vienna.

  • Champion Purple Top
  • Purple Top Milan
  • White Vienna

Kale

Aside from cabbages for coleslaw and braising, kales are perhaps my favourite of the brassicas. They are generally very hardy, and can produce for a long period. Dwarf Green Curled is a very old variety but still popular today. It is just about ideal, producing plenty of good quality greens lacking the harsh bitter taste that some can carry. For variety, we also grow a red sort, typically Red Russian, which has quite a different leaf form, and in previous years also Curly Scarlet, seed of which came with one of the gardening magazines. Curly Scarlet produces well, but it is, perhaps, too similar to the green curly kales to make it worth holding seed of both. In the past we have also grown the impressive looking black kale Toscana, which is a quite different form again, with long narrow rumpled leaves. We were not entirely convinced by its flavour and texture, which we found to be more robust than the curly kales, but will probably give it another outing. Only one or two plants of Nero di Toscana are needed as they are incredibly vigorous and will grow quite tall.

  • Dwarf Green Curled
  • Red Russian
  • Nero di Toscana

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts seem to be one of those vegetables that one either loves or loathes. I am firmly in the loathe camp, but CT quite likes them and my family love them, so I sometimes grow a small number of plants, especially with the aim of having home grown sprouts at Christmas time. I must confess that we have not had the best of luck with the sprouts, so I cannot really comment on either of the varieties listed, but will probably plant both this year. Both will crop in early winter, so when this batch of seed has expired I ought to look for a later variety to extend the season. I grew Evesham Special thanks to some seed that came with one of the gardening magazines, whilst Bedford Fillbasket was my chosen sort, known for producing a heavy crop of large but firm sprouts.

  • Evesham Special
  • Bedford Fillbasket

Cauliflower

I do not grow many cauliflowers, as I only eat them raw, and we have so many other crops growing, but All Year Round works well for me, producing nice clean curds, well protected by the leaves, and develops heads of a manageable size.

  • All Year Round

Broccoli

Broccoli is another of the brassicas that I do not enjoy, but I grow some, mostly the sprouting sorts, for CT. The heading forms, that are perhaps most common in supermarkets, are calabrese. I do grow this from time to time, but find sprouting broccoli more convenient as it crops over a longer period. We have grown several sorts of sprouting broccoli, but I favour Rudolf. It is such an early sort that a spring sowing will produce a crop in the autumn and later sowings are needed for winter use. Another sort that I might try at some point is Nine Star Perennial. This old form of sprouting broccoli is, as the name suggests, perennial and should crop well for several years. This year, though, we are hoping to try the Italian speciality, cima di rapa, also known as rapini, broccoli raab, or sprouting turnip tops. This is a quick maturing crop that will provide sprouting greens in summer and autumn.

  • Green sprouting
  • Rudolf
  • Green Heading Calabrese
  • Cima di Rapa

Radish

Whilst these may be planted with the salad in mind, they are nonetheless brassicas. They are fast maturing and best sown successionally in small quantities. I stick to the old favourites French Breakfast, which forms an oblong root with its characteristic red top and white bottom and fairly mild flavour, best eaten when young when the texture is crisp, and Scarlet Globe, which forms a round red bulb. I have a packet of seed, once again from one of the gardening magazines, of an Italian variety Candela di Fuoco, which produces long thin red roots, but I have yet to try it. There are other sorts of radish: the winter varieties such as the very old Spanish Black, with its black skin and hot white flesh, and the Asian or oriental sorts, known, for example, as mooli or daikon radish, which are predominantly white skinned and can be of a very large size, and are said to be of mild flavour. I have yet to try any of these, so that is perhaps an experiment for another year.

  • French Breakfast
  • Scarlet Globe

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