Summer Brassica

It’s week 27. My attention to the garden tends to wane into the summer. Sometimes there is less to do, other times it is pure laziness. When it’s sunny and 28 degrees celsius I find it far more relaxing to grab a cool beer and watch my kids play in their little pool than being hunched-over in a garden bed.

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But there is work to be done, and I’ve let it slide – most notably with the brassicas. Our harvest has been amazing. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale have ended up growing so quickly that we are trying to sell some while trying to eat the rest.

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I failed to realize they’d all mature so quickly and at the same time. I’m not too worried about the Kale, but I am cutting lower leaves and discarding them. The broccoli and cauliflower were getting bigger and bigger and then suddenly started to look poor.  In a perfect world, one or two of each would mature each week, but we’re never so lucky. So, with a little panic, I have just determined a new summer to-do list:

1. Harvest all cabbage and give sauerkraut another try.

2. Harvest all broccoli and hope it freezes well.

3. Harvest all cauliflower, roast in small pieces and freeze.

4. Decide whether or not to discard the too-advanced brussels and start again.

5. Seed for fall brassicas – ideally a few weeks ago.

I followed a recipe for mason jar sauerkraut last year, but I wasn’t happy with it. But I decided to try it again, however. Fermentation is easy, and it should work out fine. I am also going to try to make kimchi using the same sauerkraut technique.

I harvested 23 lbs of cabbage. I gave 10 lbs of that to my fire chief who is excited to make sauerkraut. I took half of what was left, mixed salt at 1tbsp: 800g of cabbage and pounded and kneaded the crap out of it until it was saturated in it’s own juice. Then I packed it into three 1L mason jars, put a full leaf onto to help keep the rest submerged, and topped up the liquid with what was left in my bowl. I loosely placed cling wrap over the tops and I will let sit for a few days.

I then took the second half, which included one purple cabbage and did the same, but only filled one mason jar. With the remainder, I mixed:

2 tbsp grated ginger

2 cups diakon radish

12 cloves of garlic, diced

4 tbsp fish sauce

6 tbsp sambal oelek (an asian Chili paste)

I then filled jars as I did with the first batch, but ended up filling 6 500ml jars. These will also sit for a few days, then all will be refrigerated, or canned, if I ever get some canning equipment. – Keep in mind, as it ferments, tiny bubbles are formed whcih displaces the liquid. During peak fermentation I was using a bent spoon to push the cabbage down and the air bubbles out to keep from over-flowing.

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Important: Fermentation is alive – I’m not going to go into detail, as you can find comprehensive explanations many places on the internet. Canning will stop this process but also kill the bacteria – which is great for shelf-life. For the benefits of beneficial bacteria, it is best to refrigerate (to slow the process) in order to prolong shelf life. I have read that freezing it will also preserve some of the benefits – just don’t freeze it in those glass jars. And, in case you’re new to fermentation or canning, be advised that there are strict rules to follow for canning – so follow an approved recipe and be totally clean. Bad bacteria, left to fester will cause spoilage, but there are less obvious ones that are harmful when eaten, so do not take this lightly. Same goes for fermentation – the internet is full of DIY probiotic crap. The truth is the vast majority of bacteria is harmless, the rest are either good for us or bad for us. The average person does not need to consume something specially made with probiotics, because we tend to eat them accidentally all the time. Consider this – the reason sauerkraut is easy to make is because the good bacteria needed to ferment is already all over it. So, eat some raw greens from your garden and you will be fine. Fermentation at home is still a bit risky – the salt and the lactic acid that develops kills most harmful bacteria, but others can and eventually will work their way in. Always ensure you are working with acid, salt and very little air contact (keep submerged).

If you haven’t made “cauliflower rice” before, it’s worth a try: Bust up your cauliflower into like-rice sized pieces, (bigger is easier) toss it in a bowl with a tiny bit of olive oil and some salt and spread out on a roasting pan. Space it out nicely so it caramelizes, instead of steams. 350 to 375 in the oven and give it a toss to rotate at some point. Keep an eye on it and pull it when it browns. I usually bake for 15 minutes (cracking the door open for a second at 10 minutes), then flip it all and put it in for another 15 with another crack of the door to let steam out. Use it in place of rice if you’re going “low-carb” or mix it with rice to add some depth and vitamins. Or – the best ever: if it’s still a little soft, add it to mashed potatoes (before the mashing). You’ll be impressed with the flavour – if you’re ok with a “grittier” texture.

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However, a little warning: my six large heads of cauliflower ended up being 4 little sandwhich baggies of this roasted goodness. There is a lot of water in cauliflower – which will be evident by the steam in your face when you open the oven door. I fed the large woody stocks to the dogs – as mentioned before, they love brassicas for some reason – and the rest of the stocks filled a giant freezer bag. I’ll use that for mashed potatoes for sure.

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I decided to blend all the broccoli and freeze it like that for soups. Both of my kids are skinny, so a broccoli/cheddar soup with heavy cream sounds like a great way to get the broccoli vitamins in.

  • update: It was delicious.

It only just occurred to me – while writing this and feeling overwhelmed by all the varieties and traits that I might best employ – that I could maintain the brassicas through the winter. However, this causes a rotation problem. Planting new cabbage in the beds currently used with cabbage will guarantee an increase in pest pressure. Overwintering cabbage means no cover crop, and because they are heavy feeders, I need a light feeder to follow. As of right now one is a tomato crop (also heavy feeders) and the other is corn – once again a heavy feeder. Both of those would benefit from a winter fava or grain as winter cover crop, but I will be able to do neither with large leafed brassicas. I might be back to the drawing board on this one. In the meantime I will reseed the same garden, but put a whole bunch of predatory soil mites – either stratiolaelaps scimitus or gaeolaelaps gillespii – in the bed to cut down on the worms, nematodes, and beetles that are surely loving the garden right now. The only problem with the mites is they will eat the eggs and first stages of those pests, but only larger animals and parasites will tackle the adults – I’m hoping something finds a taste for my slugs.

I’ll let you all know how this goes!

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