For me, the ideal vegetables are ones that take very little work, a moderate amount of water and, most importantly, have a long harvest.   I didn’t think brassicas would qualify, at first. 

Before establishing our big vegetable garden I was put off by the talk of wood pigeons, cabbage butterflies and the fact that one has to plant at least nine months in advance of harvest.  That sounded a bit too hard core.  

So in our first year here we tried easy brassicas – various kales.  I netted for wood pigeons and I picked off the occasional clutch of Cabbage White eggs and it all went fine.  We didn’t particularly enjoy eating most of the varieties, so we only took the Cavalo Nero into our second year.  It lasts particularly well as a crop from August to January and we all love kale crisps. 

In our second year we added cauliflower and sprouting broccoli.  I didn’t bother picking off the eggs that year.  After all, how bad can it be?  Well, it’s bad.  If you leave the eggs to hatch, your mature plants can be eaten by a writhing mass of expanding stripy caterpillars within days.  I waged organic warfare by removing all infested leaves and squashing the remaining caterpillars on the top sprouts, before netting all over again. It was messy, but I saved everything.   These days I take a stronger line and don’t let anything graduate to caterpillar level.

Cauliflower failed the cut because it took nearly a year to produce a single edible head.  It tasted good, but many months of nurturing to produce one dinner is really not worth it. 

However, sprouting broccoli passed the test.  The plants had recovered from the caterpillars by October, then wintered heavy snow and went on to produce enthusiastically during the hungry gap.   Because they are cut-and-come-again, it is possible to spin out the crop for a couple of months.  I’m harvesting this year’s crop at the moment and expect it to last until May.

Finally, last year we added Brussels sprouts to the repertoire.  I bought a mixed variety packet of seed and have had sprouts from November to April, so we’ll plant them again too.

My top tip:  so that we don’t delay the crop rotation, we plant the onions in November underneath the mature brassicas.  After the brassicas have finished cropping, we cut them down and let the onions continue in to the new season.  

Text and Images (C) Claire @theslowfix A slow food devotee, Claire is constantly searching for new ways to enable us all to live sustainably.

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