The cabbage family FAQs

What sort of conditions do brassicas need?

Brassicas (members of the cabbage family) need fertile, well-drained, moisture-retentive soil, dug thoroughly and preferably manured several months in advance: they are best planted into firm soil. (You can, for instance, plant them immediately after lifting peas, without even forking the soil.) Acid soils should be limed to discourage the serious brassica disease, clubroot.

Good anchorage is an important factor. On light soils, plant brassicas in drills about 75 mm (3 in) deep, gradually filling the drills as the plants grow to increase stability. For the same reason, earth up the stems of cabbages and cauliflowers as the plants gain height, and stake tall brassicas such as brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli.

Can you suggest a sowing programme that will provide cabbage all year round?

For spring cabbage, sow outdoors in late July or early August, planting them where they are to grow in September. Suitable varieties include ‘Harbinger’, ‘Durham Early’, and ‘Offenham’.

They will be ready between March and May.

For summer cabbage start sowing in April and May, planting from May to June. Suitable varieties are ‘Hispi’, ‘Stonehead’, and ‘Minicole’. These will be ready from July to October.

For winter cabbage, sow in mid-May, planting towards the end of June, using any savoys, ‘January King’, or ‘Celtic’. These will be ready from about December to February.

I get poor results with cauliflowers. Can you suggest what I may be doing wrong?

First, sow the right variety at the right time for your particular area: check on this in a good seed catalogue. Secondly, aim to grow your cauliflowers very steadily: they hate suffering any kind of check to their growth. Raise them in soil blocks, if possible, and transplant them when they are still small—about 6 weeks old.

They need plenty of moisture throughout growth, but especially in the early stages. However, they need less nitrogen than many other brassicas: too much makes them produce leaf rather than curd. Cauliflower seedlings are often attacked by cabbage-root fly. Protect the stem with a disc of foam carpet underlay, slipped around the stem at soil level after planting. It should be about 150 mm (6 in) in diameter, with a slit from the outside to a small central hole as wide as the stem. Alternatively, dip the transplants in calomel before planting.

Can you give me advice on growing calabrese for freezing?

Calabrese (green sprouting broccoli) freezes beautifully, retaining its colour and flavour. Sow in April or May, preferably directly in the soil as it dislikes transplanting (plants raised in soil-or peat-blocks or in small pots can be transplanted safely as there will be little disturbance). It needs moderately fertile soil and plenty of moisture, so that it can grow fast: it should be ready in about 10 weeks. Cut the large central head first. About a month later a second crop of smaller side shoots appears.

Space the plants about 300 mm (12 in) apart for the highest yields. If you grow them closer, however—say, 200-225 mm (8-9 in) apart—the side shoots will be suppressed and smaller terminal shoots will mature all together, which is useful for freezing. ‘Green Comet’ and ‘Premium Crop’ are recommended for freezing.

I’m told you can get a second crop from a cabbage stalk. How is this done?

This is an old gardening trick which works best on spring and early summer cabbages. When you cut the cabbage head, leave the stalk in the ground, and cut a shallow cross about 6 mm (V* in) deep on the top of the stalk. Provided the soil is fertile and there is plenty of moisture, several buds will appear below the cross and develop into cabbage heads by late summer. As many as six new heads may be produced, crammed together on the old stalk.