Spring has come upon us with a vengeance and for those of us in Southcentral Alaska, it has decided to join us a month early. As we frolic about in uncharacteristic warm April sunshine and snowless garden beds, the growing season has snuck up on us. It’s time to get those gears in motion and plant the last of the seeds that need to be started indoors. Although there are many seeds that can be started around this time, the last round that we focus on at Foundroot are the Brassicas.
This hardy bunch in the cabbage family is the champion of Northern gardens. They love our summers even with their chilly evenings, rainy afternoons, and sporadic frosts. Broccoli to radish, these Brassicas are the staple of our summer no matter what the thermometer reads.
The Seed Brassica seeds are some of the hardest seeds around. They can store upwards of ten years if kept properly. Unfortunately, they are more often then not biennial seed producers and need to be overwintered to produce seed. This is a great obstacle in Alaska and alternative tactics such as root storage are often implemented to get around this challenge. There are limited open-pollinated varieties available but the ones that exist are tried and true heirlooms with a long-standing history of successful, delicious crops.
Growing Brassicas All root crops should absolutely, 100% never be started indoors and always directly seeded into the bed where they will stay. As for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other Brassicas that we eat the leaves and flowers of, they can be started up to a month before planting. Although this year we are having unseasonable warmth, this is usually the time when I seed these crops indoors to transplant out by Memorial Day weekend at the latest.
Brassicas harden off quickly and easily so there is a lot of flexibility with timing. Depending on your space, you can try seeding them outside in a hoophouse or greenhouse for slower growth but no need to harden off. Otherwise, harden off over the course of at least 3-5 days for best results.
Transplanting Brassicas will benefit from some kind of covering or protection until they re-root themselves in their final spot. It is important not to leave plants in containers for too long as that will bind the roots and cause them to take much longer to establish themselves. Using soil blocks and paying attention to timing will be critical in giving your plants a healthy head start at the beginning of the season. Turnips, rutabagas, and radishes can be susceptible to root maggots and can be protected with a floating row cover until they are ready for harvest.
Brassicas are heavy feeders and will require extra nutrients for successful growth. Because we grow so many of this plant family, it can be a challenge to rotate them around and keep your beds thriving. Try companion planting to avoid a total nutrient depletion and always map your garden from year to year to keep from depleting a single bed.
Harvest and Storage Not only do Brassicas love our chilly summers, they are also the crops that feed us all winter long. Root storage is key for vegetables like turnips, rutabagas, brussels sprouts, and cabbage while radishes, arugula, and nasturtiums are meant to be enjoyed fresh during the growing season. Kale can often stay in the garden well into the winter frosts for sweeter flavor and an extended season. I tend to blanch and freeze our broccoli, cauliflower, and some of the greens for a kick of nutrients all year long. These are the plants that keep on giving with nutrient dense vegetables, extended seasons, and easy storage.
Cooking Although they are very prevalent in the Alaskan garden, many Brassicas leave new gardeners at a loss at how to enjoy this bountiful family. Here are just a few ideas on how to cook up these healthy happy plants:
Simple Brussels Sprouts
adapted from Gourmet
- 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Lemon juice
- Salt and Pepper
Trim Brussels sprouts and halve lengthwise. Mince garlic.
In a 10-inch heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) melt 1 tablespoon butter with olive oil over medium heat and sauté garlic until pale golden. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Reduce heat to low and arrange sprouts in skillet, cut sides down, in one layer. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cook sprouts, without turning, until crisp-tender and undersides are toasty brown, about 15 minutes.
With tongs transfer sprouts to a plate, browned sides up. Add garlic, lemon juiceand remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to skillet and cook over moderate heat, about 1 minute. Spoon mixture over sprouts and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Potato and Cabbage Bundles
- 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise, then sliced crosswise (1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large head green cabbage (3 pounds)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 lb large boiling potatoes
- 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
- 3 oz extra-sharp white Cheddar, coarsely grated (1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish
- 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
Cook onion in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. Discard any discolored or damaged tough outer leaves from cabbage, then core cabbage and carefully lower into boiling water using a slotted spoon.
Boil cabbage, pulling off 6 large leaves (to be used as decorative wrappers and eaten if desired) with tongs as they soften and leaving them with remaining cabbage, 5 minutes. Transfer large leaves to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Transfer remaining cabbage to a colander to drain. Transfer large leaves to paper towels to drain, then pat dry.
Lightly butter muffin cups, then put 2 parchment strips in a crisscross pattern in each cup. (You will have a 2-inch overhang.) Line each cup with a large cabbage leaf. Coarsely chop enough remaining cabbage to measure 3 cups, then add to onion along with garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and water and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender and browned, about 10 minutes.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes, then cover with cold salted water by 1 inch in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a colander, then set potatoes in colander over saucepan to steam-dry, uncovered, 5 minutes. Mash potatoes in a large bowl, then stir in buttermilk, cheese, horseradish, 1/2 stick butter, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper until combined well.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook bread crumbs, stirring frequently, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes.
Fill each cabbage leaf with about 1/2 cup potato mixture, then divide cabbage mixture among leaves. Top with remaining potato mixture, then sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Fold edges of cabbage in toward filling (do not completely cover).
Bake until heated through and edges of cabbage are well browned, 25 to 30 minutes.
Transfer stuffed leaves to plates using parchment overhangs.
Cooks’ note: Stuffed cabbage leaves can be assembled, but not baked, 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before baking.