Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages and Cauliflowers
By: Jonathan Sturm

All of these very different vegetables are merely different strains of one, Brassica olereaca, bred for the leaves, buds, or flower buds as the desired edible portion. That should not stop you eating the leaves of cauliflower, broccoli or brussels sprouts, they are very tasty.

One thing the cabbage tribe all have in common is susceptibility to destruction by the caterpillars of the cabbage moth and the cabbage white butterfly. There is a bewildering variety of ingenious approaches to the problem, though Dipel, a bacterial spray specific to caterpillars, is probably the best control. Juicing the grubs in a blender, diluting and sieving the mixture to make a spray is just as effective. A mere 35 gm of caterpillars is enough to treat a hectare, though the accuracy required for toxic chemicals is not called for. Both derris dust and pyrethrum kill predators, so neither is recommended except as a last resort. Backyarders can use pantyhose to enclose the young plant and keep the caterpillars out of smaller varieties of cabbage and cauliflower. The hose stretches as the plant grows. I have seen tomato prunings, inverted eggshells on sticks and white paper cut-outs of butterflies placed on the crop as deterrents. Growing celery, dill, beetroot, or onions as companion plants is also popular. On a very small scale, hand-picking works well for cabbages and cauliflowers, though not for broccoli. The grubs hide in the loose head of flower buds.

Aphids can also be a problem, particularly with Brussels sprouts. Aphids have a waxy coating to stop them from drowning in the rain. A solution of soft soap, such as "Clensil", or "Safers" wets them, so they drown. Soft soap is potassium stearate that is biodegradable. Apart from 100% biodegradable detergents, such as Amway Liquid Organic Cleanser (LOC), detergents are not as good as soft soap.

Broad-spectrum insecticides, such as pyrethrum, are not recommended for the reasons mentioned above. Aphis repellents include companion planting of calendula (English marigold), celery, garlic and hedgerows of southernwood or wormwood. The larvae of hover flies love aphis and are attracted by umbelliferous flowers such as those of parsley and carrot that have shallow nectar sources.

All brassicas, including turnips and swedes, are subject to a nasty disease called club root, or finger and toe. The club root organism is present in most garden soils, but only becomes problematic when the cabbage tribe are grown in the same ground, year after year. If it is allowed to take hold, it is five years or more until you can safely grow brassicas in that ground again. To avoid this state of affairs, brassicas must be grown on a minimum of a three-year rotation with unrelated crops. The only members of the family to which this does not apply are the humble radish and mustard grown as a green manure. They are in the ground so briefly; the disease doesn't have time to develop. Growing onion tribe immediately before brassicas in the rotation is supposed to assist, as does placing a piece of rhubarb stem in the hole brassica seedling s are transplanted into.

Like all crops that are usually transplanted, brassicas will do much better when sown direct. One of the main reasons for transplanting them is that they can go in immediately after a spring or summer crop has finished. Sowing them in a seedbed or flats, a little extra time is gained. Another reason for transplanting brassicas is that it makes caterpillars easier to control when they are concentrated in a small area. Press the soil well around brassicas transplants, they prefer firm soil, and water in well to eliminate air pockets around their roots.


There are many sorts of cabbage, savoys, ball heads, conical and red cabbage are the main types. Chinese cabbage is not a cabbage, but a distant relation called Brassica pekinensis.

The crinkly leaved savoys are autumn and winter maturing, so they are sown in summer. They tend to be slow to bolt and hold well into the winter, or even spring in very cold districts. They are pale green inside and to my mind have the best flavour of any cabbage. There used to be a couple of hundred varieties of savoys at the turn of the century and they were listed separately to the other cabbages. These days there is only Savoy King (a hybrid) commercially available. We save our own seed of Carters savoy that used to be available from the New Gippsland Seed Farm.

The conical cabbages are also known as spring cabbages and are sown in autumn and spring. They also have excellent flavour and are quicker maturing than savoys. The most common is Sugar Loaf, which dates from the early nineteenth century.

The ball head types are now the most common and nearly all are hybrids. Of the open-pollinated varieties, Vanguard, and Velocity are both medium size and quick maturing types. Their flavour is vastly superior to the hybrids, though not as fine as conicals, or savoys. They are generally sown in spring and early summer.

Red cabbage is a tougher, but tastier ball head type. It requires about twice the cooking time of conventional cabbages to become tender.

Cabbages need plenty of space to develop. Planted too close, they will form loose, rather than solid hearts. Allow 60 cm between rows and 45 cm between plants, or 45 cm each way.


Cauliflowers are the greediest feeders of all the brassicas. They also have a high requirement for molybdenum at the seedling stage, which can be supplied with seaweed, or seaweed meal, either in the soil or the compost. Sprays of liquid seaweed are also beneficial in this regard. Cauliflowers afflicted by molybdenum shortage have narrow, strap like leaves, giving the disease its name, whiptail. The size of the curd is also adversely affected. The molybdenum needs to be available in the first couple of weeks following seedling emergence for the creation of an essential enzyme.

Afterwards, no amount of molybdenum will help. If you know there is insufficient in the soil, or seed-raising mix, then you will have to apply a foliar spray of sodium molybdate.

Most cauliflower varieties are very particular about sowing time. They are sown in spring and the variety determines the date of harvest. Paleleaf, or Paleface has the widest range of suitable sowing times, though it is also one of the slowest maturing.

The growth of the curd takes only a few days when the plant nears maturity. Many varieties require you to tie the leaves over the developing curd to prevent sun scorch. The flavour and appearance is best when the curd is still tight and not ricey.

Most cauliflower varieties need cool growing conditions at maturity. Hot weather at this time quite ruins the flavour. For warmer latitudes, hybrid varieties have been developed, but I cannot vouch for their performance.

Cauliflowers need lots of growing room. A row spacing of 75 cm and a similar spacing between plants is recommended. There are miniature cauliflower varieties that can be grown 15-30 cms apart and these are generally sown direct.

Broccoli is a good choice for the home gardener, but needs protection from caterpillar pests
Broccoli is a good choice for the home gardener, but needs protection from caterpillar pests

Broccoli is a lot more adaptable than its close cousin cauliflower and there are varieties to ensure a year round supply. Like cauliflower, broccoli is also susceptible to molybdenum deficiency, but not quite so severely. Back in 1982, I was growing three open-pollinated varieties of broccoli, Calabrese, Spartan Early and Late Sprouting. Sadly, only Calabrese is left, the hybrids having taken over.

Broccoli is a cut-and-come-again vegetable, forming a large central head, followed by a number of small side-heads after the central head is cut. To attain the maximum possible size of the main head, broccoli needs to be pruned. Immature, developing side-shoots are cut off until the main head is harvested.

There are three main sorts of broccoli. The oldest is sprouting broccoli and it is rarely grown these days. It doesn't make a large central head, only lots of small sprouts over a long period in the spring. There are white, purple and green sorts. The main type of broccoli grown nowadays has a large central head and small side heads are formed after the central head is cut. Representative of the less usual type of broccoli is Romanesco. Its head is similar to cauliflower, being tight rather than loose and pale green rather than white. In flavour it does not really resemble either broccoli, or cauliflower. In very cold weather it develops a purple tinge that rather spoils its appearance.

Broccoli is usually grown at a spacing 40-50 cm between rows and the same or a little less between plants.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are suitable for cold districts only. Sprouts are greatly improved in flavour by frosty mornings. The buds, or sprouts grow too loose and fluffy in warm weather. Generally the first few that form at the bottom of the stem are loose and need to be removed. Modern varieties are bred to ripen all at once for convenience of harvest. The home gardener prefers the older sorts that gradually ripen from the bottom up over a period of weeks. The terminal sprout looks like a miniature cabbage and is also worth eating. When the sprouts become big enough to harvest, remove the leaves below the sprouts as you harvest them leaving the stem bare. This forces the plant's energy into the sprouts.

Brussels sprouts are usually spaced about 70 cm between rows and 45-60 cms between plants.

Chinese Cabbage

Chinese cabbage has much thinner leaves than European cabbage. They are tenderer, slightly hairy and have an unusual flavour. They do best when sown to mature in cool weather, as they are prone to bolt when it is too hot. They also should be sown direct where they are to grow. Transplanting, unless done very carefully to minimise root disturbance, results in bolting.

They are sown much closer than conventional cabbages as they have an upright habit. 60 cm between rows and 30 cm between plants is about right.

Savoy Carters ImprovedCrinkly leaf type
Sugar LoafConical spring cabbage
Velocity Ball headThe fastest maturing, when direct sown
Red AcreRed cabbage
Autumn/Winter DutchCrinkly leaf
VanguardBall head
Enfield MarketConical spring cabbage
Mammoth Red RockLarge red cabbage
SupermarketMedium size ball head. Holds well.
MichihiliChinese cabbage
Cauliflower Open pollinated (for cool areas)SowMths to maturity
Mini WhiteNov-Feb5
South AustralianEarly Oct-Nov5
Thredbo ImprovedEarly Oct-Nov5.5
Phenomenal EarlyEarly Oct-Nov5.5
SuperstarEarly Oct-Nov6.0
June Dark LeafNov-Dec6.0
Channel ReefNov-Dec7.0
Mill ReefNov-Dec7.0
Paleleaf (Paleface)Dec-Apr8.0
Cauliflower Hybrids for warmer latitudes (30 & 35th parallel)Mths to maturity
Snow King4.0
Snow Crown4.0
Snow Diana4.5
Snow March5.0
Broccoli Open PollinatedSow
Calabrese (Green Sprouting)L.Winter-E.Autumn
Broccoli HybridSow
Green DukeSpring & Summer
CorvetLate Summer
SkiffMid Summer-E.Winter
Premium CropL.Wint-E.Spr/Summer
Line 39Mid.Aut-L.Wint
Brussels SproutsSow
Long IslandL.Spr-E.Summer
Royal RubyL.Spr-E.Summer
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