Since they are related and grown in the same fashion, I am going to cover cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts all at once. Kale is also a member of the cabbage family.
I grow a lot of cabbage family plants. One of Dan’s favorite foods is coleslaw and there is nothing like coleslaw made from fresh cabbage that you just picked from the garden. Andy isn’t a fan of cabbage so much but he does like cabbage rolls. Sauerkraut is probably my favorite way to eat the cabbage I grow.
We eat broccoli raw as snacks, in salads, lightly steamed, and in stir fries. Dan juices it. And I freeze extra to eat during the winter. Andy doesn’t like cauliflower (yet) but Dan and I eat it raw as snacks, in salads, lightly steamed and in stir fries. In addition to freezing it, I also preserve it by pickling. Yum.
We are also big fans of Brussels sprouts – although Andy has decided that he no longer likes them. One of my fondest memories is of grocery shopping with Andy when he was about 3 years old and we were in the produce section and he spotted Brussels sprouts and pointed and said “Look Mommy, they have Brussels sprouts, can we buy some? Pleeeeease? There was another lady nearby who did a double take at that. It was so cute – I try and remind him of that when he says he doesn’t like them but he just doesn’t remember it. We mostly eat them lightly steamed and I freeze extras.
Green is the most popular color of cabbage. I like to grow red cabbage, which is actually more of a purple color. There is also white cabbage. Broccoli comes in just the color green (or is there a purple variety also? Might be). Cauliflower comes in white, yellow and purple heads. Brussels sprouts are green or purple.
You want to start cabbage plants indoors (or buy plants). Cabbage family plants can tolerate the cold so you can transplant them earlier than other plants – 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost. Cabbage family plants like cool weather and will bolt (go to seed) quickly when the weather turns hot so you want to get them in your garden early. You can also plant a second crop in late July for a fall harvest.
You will need to harden off your plants before transplanting them. Hardening off is getting the plant used to the new environment where it will be growing. You start by taking them outside for a few hours a day and extend the time they are out to get them used to the elements. If plants aren’t properly hardened off before transplanting, their survival rate is slim.
You want to watch for cabbage worms – they can devastate your crop pretty quickly. You will know if you have them when you start seeing either holes in your cabbage or lots of little white butterflies (cabbage butterflies) hanging around your cabbage family plants.
Another problem you might have with cabbage is splitting – where the whole head splits open. It is caused by it taking in water too fast and the water can’t evaporate through its tightly packed leaves causing it to split. This often happens after a dry spell followed by a lot of rain – you can prevent this by even watering.
You need to tie the leaves over the cauliflower heads to prevent the sun from getting to them. This is called blanching and keeps the head nice and white. Some varieties are self blanching – where the leaves grow tightly around the head, but you may still need to tie them.
You want to pull the bottom leaves off Brussels sprouts – the sprouts will form better if you do.
Harvest cabbage when the heads are the size you desire. Harvest broccoli before the yellow flowers appear. Broccoli will produce side shoots after the main head is cut. Harvest cauliflower when the heads are firm and before they start to loosen. Check them periodically so you can harvest them at just the right time.
Brussels sprouts taste better if you can wait until after the first frost to harvest them. I usually can’t wait and start pulling some off the bottom as soon as they are big enough.
All cabbage family plants are great sources of vitamins A and C, iron, beta carotene, and fiber. They are also a great source of glucosinolates, phytonutrients that remove free radicals from the body by stimulating your body’s own antioxidant systems. They have been shown to help prevent certain cancers. They are also low in calories.