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Brilliant brassicas

May is the perfect time to turn your horticultural attention to the highly diverse and fascinating family of vegetables called the BRASSICAS.

The tasty flowering parts of the brocoli and cauliflower; the delicious leaves of kale, cabbage and asian greens; the roots of the radish, swede and turnip and the buds of the brussel sprout- all delicious in their own special way. As if their tastiness was not enough, they are also packed with vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. To benefit from these healthy morsels make sure to stick to steaming, grilling, roasting, stir frying and microwaving since boiling will greatly reduce their health benefits.

Brassicas are relatively easy to plant and are frost hardy- some even say that brussel sprouts taste even better after having been exposed to severe frost. You can sow your seeds directly into the ground if you wish but it is advisable to start them off in little pots first. When you are ready to sow, pick a sunny spot with around 6 hours of sun per day and make sure the soil drains well. They can be delicate so ideally, keep them in a location that is not exposed to extreme winds. Brassicas benefit greatly from crop rotation; move them from one site to another for three years, then you can return them to their original location. This is a clever way of avoiding soil-borne diseases. 

The cabbage moth is one of the Brassicas most challenging pests, recognisable by its white appearance with two black spots on each wing. It lays its eggs on the underside of your lovely green brassica leaves, leaving your plant looking in great shape, but within seven days the eggs hatch and the cabbage worm begins to vigorously feed on your plants, progressively eating all your leaves. The best organic solution to avoid your crop from being destroyed is to cover it with fine netting that stops the cabbage moth from laying her eggs in the first place. Don’t be too complacent though, keep a close eye on your crop, look out for little white flecks on the under leaf or little green caterpillars and simply squish them.

When harvest time comes, you will have an abundance of recipes at your disposal thanks to the attention that these wonderful vegetables are now being given by renowned chefs all over the world. For example, the once-overlooked cauliflower that would only be allowed to join the dinner table in the form of an over boiled mushy mess covered with cheese or as a tiny raw floret on a crudite plate is now being placed in the spotlight as it should be. A few of the latest cooking trends that hero the cauliflower are cauliflower pizza crust, cauliflower steaks, cauliflower pop corn, cauliflower burgers and cauliflower couscous/rice and they are all delicious and healthy; the perfect culinary attribute combination.

Cauliflower couscous/rice is especially appetising and so easy to make. Simply wash and cut your cauliflower into manageable pieces and place them in your food processor in small batches processing them down to a fine couscous/rice-like texture. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add garlic and cook until a light golden colour, then add your cauliflower, toss and cook for 5 minutes. You can eat it as a simple side dish whenever you would normally serve rice or couscous. If, instead, you want to get creative, you can add other ingredients such as cucumbers, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, chickpeas, herbs (basil, coriander and/or parsley), nuts (pine, walnut and/or almonds which adds a nice crunchy element), dried fruit (cranberries, raisins and/or currants), olives and dress with your favourite vinagrette. It can be served as a side dish or enjoyed as a hardy vegetarian main meal.

Happy planting!

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