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