Getting a winter feast underwayPosted By: rocket veg Category:
Now is the time to sow the seed of all manner of brassicas which will crop during next winter and provide you with delicious ‘greens’. The term brassica encompasses members of the cabbage family as well as cauliflowers, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – vegetables which are a valuable source of nutrients as well as being delicious to eat. Their seed is very similar in appearance – small, dark brown balls which are possible to pick up between a finger and thumb if you are careful, which is a help when it comes to sowing.
Although I like to grow varieties of cabbage for summer eating (that old faithful, ‘Greyhound’), sowing the seeds in the winter and planting out the seedlings in spring, I’ve just sown a selection of brassicas which should be ready to plant out in a month or three, for harvesting in late autumn and on until next spring.
Preparing a small seed bed
Although you can sow the seed in the soil where the plants will eventually grow, thinning out as necessary, it is far easy to bring on brassica seedlings in what is known as a seed bed and transplant later when the plants are sturdy enough to handle.
A seed bed is exactly as the name suggests – a small area of ground, about 60cm wide by 30cm deep at most, in which to germinate seed. Having selected a suitable spot (tip…never use land which has been used as a seed bed before as germination rate will be adversely affected), simply take a flat rake and draw it back and forth, breaking up any lumps of soil as you go and removing larger stones and other debris – the aim being to produce what is described as a fine tilth – tiny particles of soil in which seeds will germinate readily and be able to put down their delicate roots with ease. Preparing the soil in this way is good practice for when it’s time to sow all manner of other seeds. Once done, give the seed bed a good watering and you are ready to sow.
Sowing brassica seed
I find it a help to prepare a label with the name and date sown for each variety of seed before sowing; that way, you can mark each row as you go and avoid a muddle. Now for the fun part. Use a blunt stick or special dibber to draw out a shallow, straight ‘drill’ for each variety and insert a label at the front of each. Then open the first packet of seed and carefully put a thin line of seeds along the first drill. Unless you are planning on feeding a small village, you only need to sow a dozen or so seeds of each variety: the germination rate of brassicas is generally good so you should end up with more than enough plants. Once I have sown all the seeds I need, I use my hands to carefully push the soil over the seeds and gently firm the surface.
Protect your seedlings – and a bit about aftercare
I always cover my seed bed with a tunnel of fleece raised on wire hoops, partly to protect the precious area from the worst of the weather but also to deter pests. If the weather is kind, you should be rewarded with rows of tiny green shoots ten days or thereabouts after sowing and if they are left exposed, pigeons in particular will have a feast, so some kind of covering is a must.
When the tiny brassica plants begin to put on growth, thin them out leaving enough space for each to develop straight stems and strong, healthy leaves. They will be ready to plant in their final positions when each has developed a pair of what are termed ‘proper leaves’ – which grow above the first, embryonic ones. I’ll write again when it’s time to plant brassicas and offer some advice based on what works for me.