Kalibos Cabbage, Photo by Rebecca Anne Cole
Spring is around the corner in my part of the world, and it’s time to start the brassica seeds indoors for my northeastern Maryland garden. When the term heirloom comes to mind, many people think of colorful plump tomatoes in funny shapes and sizes, but the term heirloom also applies to a host of other Old World garden vegetables, including the hardy brassica family.
Most brassica plants are started indoors when grown from seed, 4 to 6 weeks before they are to be planted out in the garden, which is usually a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Setting cabbage family transplants out as early as possible in the spring will help manage insect control by encouraging production before hungry bugs are out in full force. Seedlings are ready for transplant when they have 3 to 4 true leaves (leaves that are larger than initial sprouting leaves).
This year I am growing reliable heirloom brassica varieties that include Calabrese Green Sprouting and DiCicco broccoli, Early Jersey Wakefield, Kalibos and Nero Di Toscana cabbages, and Blue Curled Scotch kale.
Calabrese Green Sprouting broccoli was the first broccoli variety I attempted in my garden. According to Baker Creek Seed Company, Calabrese Green Sprouting is an Italian heirloom that was brought to the United States sometime in the 1800s. Almost all of my broccoli seeds germinated and later transplanted successfully to the garden. The plants produced main 6- to 8- inch heads, and there were plenty of side shoots to harvest after the main stems were snipped. I am allowing space for approximately 16 Calabrese Green Sprouting plants in the garden this year.
Di Cicco broccoli is a quick maturing variety, requiring as little as 50 days to maturity. The stems tend to be thinner and less fibrous, allowing for less waste. I cut the stems down to just above where they start to get tough for steaming, then juice the remaining stems with other vegetables for a nutrient-dense green drink. I’m allowing space for about 16 Di Cirrco plants in the brassica bed.
Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage, Photo by Rebecca Anne Cole
Early Jersey Wakefield and Kalibos are compact cabbage varieties that work well in smaller gardens and tight spaces. Early Jersey Wakefield is a green cabbage, and Kalibos is a vibrant red cabbage that I used fresh in salads and slaw recipes. I was able to squeeze a few extra plants of each variety into my cabbage bed last season, and I plan to do the same this year. Both varieties produce tight conical heads, and I allow just 9 to 12 inches between each plant.
Early Jersey Wakefield are good keepers, and I was able to successfully freeze several heads last season. I washed and quartered the cabbages, then blanched quickly before cooling in an ice bath before freezing. The frozen cabbage quarters were a delicious addition to soups and made for quick sausage and cabbage dinners.
Nero Di Toscana cabbage reminds me more of a kale, but the variety is technically a loose-leaf, savoy-type cabbage. The leaves grow gracefully tall and are a beautiful, dense green color. When they reach maturity I harvest using the “cut and come” method, working from the outside in to enjoy Nero Di Toscana cabbage all season long.
Blue Curled Scotch kale is traditional kale variety, growing nutrient-dense curly blue-green leaves. Being the only kale fanatic in my house, I allow space for about six robust Blue Curled Scotch plants spaced about 18 inches apart to harvest throughout the growing season. I use baby kale (smaller, more tender leaves) raw in salads and juice recipes, and larger leaves roasted in a low oven with olive oil for crispy kale chips.