EASY PEASY: Gardening the Mighty Brassicas
The Brassicas have a bad rep. But they’re not all equally challenging! Luckily this month we are spared the trickiest of the bunch, the cauliflower, and we get to start upping our skills on two of the more easygoing in the family - so in our May trays you will find cabbages and broccoli!
Brassicas are cool season crops. They are rather greedy so definitely add compost or manure before planting to ensure there is enough nitrogen in the soil, then keep them topped up with compost as they grow. Broccoli can have quite shallow roots, so when you add more compost, hill it up around the plant stem. They definitely like to be well watered and prefer moist conditions. It’s a rather warm and sunny May this year, so especially in these early days, be diligent about the watering! And don’t forget the mulch! A little blanket of organic matter can regulate soil temperature nicely and retain moisture.
Brassicas do come with a rather devoted following of pests - Aphids, Cabbage Whites, thrips and Diamondback moths. One of the simplest forms of pest control is a daily check - it’s good to catch things early before they do much damage to your plants. A walk around the veggies each day checking under leaves and particularly on the new growth will give you a heads up as to what’s lurking. Don’t be afraid to put on your head torch and head out for a bit of night exploration too, if you really want to meet all the characters enjoying your hard work. Maybe staying home under lockdown with more time for garden excursions is going to pay off and produce record success in the Brassicas department!
Remove the pests you do find by hand, and if you aren’t keen on squishing, relocate them - somewhere far away from the food garden. Not every living creature needs to be hurled out though - many are working well for you - but when you see a bug with intent making a dent in your baby, it’s time to act. If you don’t want to touch, then a spray from a bottle of soapy water (plus optional chilli) onto the offending critters can be a simple way of dealing with many pests. Neem oil is also an effective solution that does not harm most beneficial insects, and can also be mixed in with a soapy solution. Remember that anything more heavy handed than this will affect all caterpillars, not just the ones interested in your cabbages and broccoli. Less butterflies means less birds means less predators of other things so it’s always a balance. Especially in your first season of food gardening, if you lose the Brassicas, you will be building up a pest predator population so its not a disaster!
Planting the herbs and flowering plants that are included in the Easy Peasy trays amongst your Brassicas attracts more beneficial insects to munch on your pests. Nasturtiums are also an irresistible treat for Cabbage White caterpillars, snails and others, so are always worth planting as a decoy somewhere nearby to distract them. When it’s teeming, just pull out the whole nasturtium plant and carry it away, caterpillars and all! Garlic, onions and chives planted amongst your veggies will also deter pests with their glorious pungent aromas. Now let’s plant!