CABBAGE AND CAULIFLOWER ALL YEAR ROUND
Spring is well and truly here and gardening activities are becoming very serious. Seed sowing started last month with tomatoes but in March there are numerous flowers and vegetables ready for sowing. However I want to concentrate on cabbage and cauliflower this week as they have become a crop that needs a lot of attention, and it is now time to sow seeds for an early summer crop.
They must rank at top of the list of plants to grow with the greatest challenge. I know of no other plant that has so many problems to solve to succeed with a decent crop. Onions only get white rot, gooseberries only get sawfly and a wee bit of mildew, peas and beans get off very lightly, pumpkins and courgettes just the occasional nibble from a mouse, but cabbage and cauliflower have no end of problems.
Clubroot is the main killer, but rootfly maggots can also devastate young plants, then the slugs and cabbage white butterfly caterpillars take over. If anything still survives those plagues the pigeons will seek them out and eat them. Off course you can also get greenfly, mealy aphis and cutworms.
However there is always a solution for every problem. I have slowly found answers to most of these troubles only to create another problem as full rows of healthy vegetables all mature at the same time, and two people with small appetites can only eat so much.
So this year my final problem will be solved by growing smaller rows, and doing a range of sowing dates as well as different varieties to mature over a far longer period. In fact my target is year round production so I will always have a cabbage or cauliflower available every week of the year should we wish one. January to April can be a problem with fresh cauliflower but they freeze well so there is always plenty around.
Cabbages, cauliflower and all other brassicas enjoy fertile soil, moist but well drained and a higher pH than other vegetables. Land should be well cultivated in winter, incorporating plenty of well rotted manure or compost and leaving the surface rough so it can weather down. Apply a dressing of hydrated lime in late winter to help to neutralise the soil acidity.
Soil surface is broken down, firmed and raked level in April just before planting begins. At this stage I add some fertiliser. Young plants need phosphorus to assist strong root growth to get them established then nitrogen to boost leafy growth. I am using Perlka which adds calcium as well as nitrogen which helps in the fight against clubroot.
Allow about 18 inches between plants when planting and always keep a few spare as you are sure to suffer some losses.
Clubroot is a soil borne fungus that destroys the root system. It is best controlled by liming to reduce acidity, practising at least a four year rotation and only growing brassicas bred for disease resistance.
Rootfly maggots which eat the roots can be prevented by using collars around the newly planted plants to prevent the fly having access to the root zone.
Slugs and snails can be controlled by pellets and picking off pests as they appear.
Pick off caterpillars during the summer months, though netting can also be very effective.
The only control against pigeons is netting the growing plants so these pests have no access.
I start off the season by sowing in mid March with cabbage Golden Acre and cauliflower Clapton to crop in July to September. Later sowings at the end of April with cabbage Kilaton and more cauliflower Clapton will extend harvesting well into autumn.
At the end of May I sow my winter hardy savoy cabbage Tundra and Traviata which will be available to pick all winter and if we continue with a mild winter they will last into spring.
At the end of June I sow my spring cabbage April and cauliflower Aalsmeer which will overwinter for harvesting from April to June.
Cabbages can stand in the ground a long time so no need to harvest them all together, but cauliflower tends to ripen up all at the same time so repeated sowings a month apart is very useful to prolong their season.
Plant of the week
Chionodoxa commonly known as the Glory of the Snow produces a carpet of small blue flowers in March. It comes from the eastern Mediterranean where is grows in well drained mountainous conditions often appearing as the snow melts. It is very easy to grow in sun or partial shade below deciduous shrubs and soon spreads as it grows easily from its own seeds. Drifts can be started off with a few bulbs planted in autumn then left to grow.