Articles, Blog

Creating Space For Brassicas

This season has been a really good year for
growing a range of brassica family plants such as cauliflower, kales, and cabbages. I think that a lot of this was do to the fairly
mild weather that we’ve had for most of the growing season, a reasonably consistent
supply of rain, and a better watering system for when it was dry. For the most part I’ve been able to keep pest
damage under control, and there has not been any significant disease or mineral deficiencies
issues among these crops. The different types of large brassica plants
were all grown from the same seed and transplanted at the same time into four of the outside
family scale gardens. Even with the different layouts, and the different
approaches to soil management and fertility across the 4 gardens, most of these plants
are growing well and look great. This is possibly the best crop of brassicas
that I’ve grown, my most successful year of growing this important family of vegetables. It is so wonderful to see the health and vigour
of these crops, and to realise just how big and healthy they can be. But this side by side comparison offers a
chance to observe the differences between the gardens, with some interesting observations
about how the plants can negatively affect each other. There’s quite a wide range of different brassica
crops that I grow in these gardens, and there’s a lot more that I could grow. But it can be difficult to fit them all in,
with different space requirements, different planting dates and different lengths of time
that they need to grow in the garden before harvesting. And a lot of the crops can be sown multiple
times during the season, with different varieties available to stretch the harvest times throughout
a lot of the year. There are so many options, and different ways
to approach this, but this year I’ve decided to sow 3 different batches of the larger brassica
plants, and to try to fit in the smaller faster growing brassica plants in among these main
batches. I sowed cauliflower and broccoli plants earliest
in the season, which were transplanted into these 4 gardens in the third week of April,
and then were then harvested at the end of June and into the first half of July. About 2 months later, in the second week of
June, I transplanted in Brussels sprout plants, as well as a type of summer kale, and 2 varieties
of autumn cabbages. I have been harvesting from these kale plants
since late July, and one variety of cabbage was already harvested in early autumn. The other variety of cabbage should be ready
from now until late autumn, but the Brussels sprout plants won’t be producing buds until
well into the winter. A month later, during the 2nd week of July,
I transplanted the third batch of a winter cabbage, and overwintering varieties of kale
and purple sprouting broccoli into the same 4 gardens. This variety of cabbage will be available
for harvesting over winter, with the kale and purple sprouting broccoli plants producing
tender sprouts well into the spring. This diverse range of brassicas have all been
quite successful in the Intensive Garden, producing strong plants, for the most part. They were all transplanted into 3 of the double
dug beds, with the closest spacing between plants of all 4 gardens. The harvest so far has been larger than the
other gardens, at least when calculated as yield per m2 or area, but the individual heads
of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage have been smaller on average that the other gardens. This is what I would expect from this density
of planting. The second variety of autumn cabbage will
soon be ready for harvesting, and two of the plants are really large, most likely helped
by the empty space created after the harvest of the earlier cabbages. But the other two plants of the same variety
are quite a bit smaller, likely due to competition from the adjacent Brussels sprout plants,
which seem to have stunted and delayed these two cabbage plants. This is interesting as the Brussels sprout
and cabbage plants were transplanted into the garden at the same time. It seems that small differences in the strength
and vigour of otherwise quite similar plants, can imbalance the competition and lead to
big differences in how individual plants can grow. The same set of brassica plants were arranged
a bit differently in the No-Dig Garden. This garden has one large bed devoted to the
full range of this family of plants, with cross rows for these larger brassicas, with
each plant having slightly more space than in the Intensive Garden
Some of the plants do seem to be larger than in the Intensive Garden, but others are significantly
smaller, as it seems I misjudged the layout of this bed. I could have transplanted each of the three
different batches as a group together, so that all of the plants of the same age were
beside each other. But instead I grouped the plants according
to when they would be harvested, thinking that larger sections of the bed would be cleared
and replanted at some point later in the season, or next year, and I made a mistake on this. The late planting of purple sprouting broccoli
ended up being squished between the summer kale and autumn cabbages, which had been transplanted
2 months earlier. And the winter cabbage ended up being squished
between the vigorous Brussels sprout plants and autumn cabbage plants. These younger plants struggled to become established
with this close competition, even though the older plants were at least 60 cm or 2 feet
away. The same range of brassicas in the Polyculture
Garden had similar issues to the No-Dig garden, although the layout of the plants is quite
different. I haven’t really figured out how best to
position these larger brassica plants within this garden, where I’m trying to maintain
a degree of crop rotation, but also trying to mix in a range of different plants. This season I decided to devote one of the
six large beds of this garden to these brassica plants, which really doesn’t fit into the
polycropping methodology of this garden. These various brassica plants were randomly
placed across the bed, with the first batch being transplanted into a bed of established
salad greens. These early cauliflower and broccoli plants
really suffered with this interplanting into an existing crop, and I should have cleared
a larger space for them sooner. This was probably made worse by not enough
fertility, and neither crop produced anything close to what I was able to grow in the other
gardens as a result. The second batch of plants, including the
summer kale, the autumn cabbages and the Brussels sprouts, generally did better, as the salad
greens had mostly been cleared by then. But the last batch of winter kale, cabbage
and purple sprouting broccoli, struggled with the competition from the more established
plants, and may not produce very well at all. Each of these plants that is still growing
in this garden has more space than they have in the other three gardens, which is really
benefiting some crops, but other plants don’t seem to be able to make use of this space. I think that the random interplanting of these
different crops is the key issue here, perhaps made worse by not enough fertility, and this
is something I’m going to have to rethink for next season. The layout of the Extensive Garden is quite
different from the other gardens, with the brassica rotation set up in three long rows. The middle row had been planted with the first
batch of cauliflower and broccoli plants, and this was replaced later in the season
with a variety of smaller, fast growing brassicas. One of the outside rows was planted with all
of the tall, long season crops, including the two types of kale, the Brussels sprouts
plants and the purple sprouting broccoli. The third row was planted with autumn and
winter cabbages, arranged in a row from early to late harvest. Each of these plants has significantly more
space than is available in the Intensive or in the No-Dig Garden, but slightly less space
than is available in the Polyculture Garden. The fact that the middle row was planted first
and cleared fairly early, seems to have given even more space to the outside rows which
were planted later. All of this really seems to have made a difference,
and the plants in this garden are generally larger than the other gardens, and in some
cases quite a bit bigger, and they look healthier. This is especially the case with the late
crops of purple sprouting broccoli, the winter kale, and especially a few of the winter cabbage,
which are all really large plants with huge leaves. It’s remarkable how large some of these plants
can get when the fertility and weather is good and they aren’t suffering from competition. Interestingly, the winter cabbage plants are
quite different sizes along the row, with the larger plants generally clustered at one
end, and a few smaller plants at the other. This could be due to random differences in
the viability of the individual plants, or some underground root or pest issues, but
I suspect that there may also be variation in the soil fertility along he length of the
row. With such a small sample size and so many
variables, it is difficult to come to any definitive conclusions about all of this,
but I have made some interesting observations, or at least reinforced observations that I’ve
made in the past. The larger brassica plants seem to have vigorous
root systems that can occupy the soil quite far beyond the above ground part of the plant. Because of this it is better to avoid planting
young plants beside the established plants, as they don’t seem to be able to get what
they need from the soil. Different types, or varieties of plants seem
to be much more vigorous than others even though they may be closely related, and this
can cause unexpected competition. The size of each of the brassica plants generally
depends on the space it has to grow in, but not always, and more space typically produces
larger plants that seem to be healthier and more resilient. But maximum yields for a given area can generally
be achieved by growing more plants that are spaced closer together. As with many things there is a balance that
can be achieved here, and it generally depends on the amount of fertility that is available,
and also the type of crop, and even perhaps the specific variety of the crop that is being
grown. It is generally better to group different
plants that are transplanted into the garden at the same time, but it’s also useful to
group these plants according to how long they are going to be in the garden. Trying to achieve both of these can be difficult,
especially if I want to grow many of the wide variety of different types of brassica plants. If I want to keep all of these related crops
in one section of the garden, in order to maintain and effective crop rotation, it can
be quite difficult to figure out how to fit everything in. Essentially, this is a design challenge. How do I incorporate all these different issues
into an appropriate planting plan for the gardens, especially when so many of the different
crops that I want to grow belong in this diverse family of crops. With larger gardens, and market gardens, this
can be a lot easier to work out, as each bed can be devoted to a different crop. With smaller gardens, such as these, it can
be much more difficult to fit everything in, especially when there’s a need or desire to
grow as much as possible. It’s likely easier in climates with hard
cold winters, where there is generally only one crop grown per bed each season. In temperate climates like here in Ireland,
where quite a few brassica crops can be productive right through the winter, it can be more complicated
to fit everything in. In trying to balance all of these issues,
I think that I have been most successful this season with the design and layout of the Extensive
Garden. The layout of the brassica section of this
garden into 3 widely spaced rows seemed to work quite well, with different crops grouped
according to how long they are in the soil. The layout of both the Intensive and No-Dig
gardens can be improved, but the close planting really depends on good fertility levels in
these gardens, and I need to pay more attention to which crops are growing beside each other. The Polyculture Garden definitely needs a
radical redesign. I’m planning to abandon the conventional crop
rotation system for this garden, and to try to mix up these larger brassicas plants with
the other crop families. This is a more difficult design challenge,
as all these issues are still likely going to arise, with the added complexity of the
mix of so many different plants together. In the other gardens the aim is generally
to get the best result for all the plants. But perhaps with the Polyculture Garden I
need to take a more casual approach to all of this, and accept that competition, diverse
conditions and unexpected results are all part of this methodology. And this would require a different way of
thinking and a different approach to the design of the planting plan of this garden.


  1. KimJongUninstall Author

    I have nearly no interest in gardening, but I love watching these videos. I love how in-depth and informative your videos are, and even without any experience in the subject, I still feel as though I understand everything you discuss fairly well. Keep up the great work!

  2. Paul Barban Author

    Your entire series is a meaningful contribution to the practical knowledge of growing crops. I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors.

  3. Victory Begins in the Garden Author

    as a home grower i internally grow broccoli close because I don't need large heads sometimes with large heads get wasted growing them close allows me to plant more in a larger amount in the same space for a longer growing season because they ripen at a different rate

  4. Connor B Author

    4:50 there’s something about that plant that makes me cringe, I think it’s all the wrinkly leaves. But otherwise, another great video!

  5. allonesame Author

    Your soil is gorgeous… luxurious even! //It's a challenge to be methodical and scientific when you can't control variables or be aware of them until the vegetables are growing and you can apprehend their need. Gardening is experiential and experimental and you do both well. Thank you!

  6. Dave Sayers Author

    have you tried integrating the use of Bacillus thuringiensis into cabbage white butterfly control with the Brassicas? I couldn't grow them without its use where i have no netting left.

  7. Jennifer Holden Author

    You are doing so well. I don't know if you're near the coast but seaweed in your compost is supposed to be good, me and my Dad would go down to the shore, especially after a storm, and collect seaweed for his compost. I was only a little girl so I don't really remember how effective it was. I remember we weren't allowed to touch the sprouts until after they had had a frost on them. Good luck, your veg look great.

  8. Robert Crowe IV Author

    I know you are watching the progress of the storm & hope it'll move more west to not hit yall directly. Batten down the hatches, just in case.

  9. dancingcedar Author

    This is very helpful. The level of detail is very illuminating. I am happy that there is no music….that seems to me to be a distraction. I like direct simplicity. Blessings.

  10. Sheila Smith Author

    Did I catch a glimpse of soil blocks when you were planting out the young plants? I'm going to try a soil blocker tool next spring. Great video. It all looks so healthy!

  11. Matty Samson Author

    Great vid! At 8.55 you said the braasicas had unexpected competition.. perhaps plants of the same type would be expected to compete more because of their shared root zones / depth etc…?? Although this seems to be moot after the polyculture garden examples… 🙁

  12. Fellow Villager Climate change Repairman Author

    This was an exceptional episode.
    (that's not to say all the previous episodes aren't well worth the watch also)
    But this particular episode is chock full of quality camera work, concise reviews presenting, beautiful "tasty looking" garden produce and quality garden design layouts.
    Red Gardens "comparative methods" – method of gardening – adds a unique level of Interest – especially due to the presenters unique ability at explaining concisely & comprehensively; due to his exceptional talent at presenting reviews with a well-spoken relaxed sort of effort via his obviously well practiced 20/20 hindsight ability at accurately reviewing achievements and "rare failures" (considering the high degree of experimental gardening inputs) which ("unashamedly" in the name of research) either did or did not – produce the desired results.
    But due to the predominantly free-of-charge offering of research results "it's all exceptionally good."

  13. Andy O' Brien Author

    Just converted a patch of lawn into 6 11x4ft beds for next year using the lazy beds method from your earlier videos. Going to try grow a few fruits and vegtables next year. Your videos and tony from ukherewegrow are the best on youtube.

  14. Mark Dowdy Author

    Most plants I saw in this video had holey leaves. What pest was causing that and does it impact the edibility or saleability of the vegetable?
    [Edit – I posted a bit too early, I saw you picking off caterpillars at the very end. Still wondering on edibility or saleability – such as are they hitting the head of the cabbage or just the outer leaves…]

    Thanks for these highly informative videos!

  15. Christine Author

    Brassicas like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels need a surprisingly large amount of nitrogen compared to other garden vegetables so I’m not surprised the ones in tight spacing or planted near established plants really struggled. I have rather poor soil and have been using a combination of balanced organic fertilizer (slow release) with periodic additions of calcium nitrate (quick release) to help them get enough to do well. I really need to address the issue by adding a bunch of organic material this winter and spring.

  16. Katie Hayward Author

    Although I am on the other side of the world, we share a "Gardening Zone," so it's really interesting to see you dealing with similar temperature/climate issues that we have that are rarely addressed in other gardening channels. I've made my Fiancee watch all of these videos with me because I love the way you handle results. You are very scientific about it, acknowledging other possible factors, explaining other ways you could have done it and why you made the decisions you did. I thoroughly enjoy your channel.

  17. ShyThinker videos Author

    a interplanted beets 20 betwen my brocolli and cauliflower plants,turns out i had an awesome brocolli and cauliflower,i could not eat all,they were so many,i gave many to all friends and ate all i could,still haave some left,harvested the beets then got 700grams from 19 plants,a total win in my mind,average35g from each beet

  18. PaleGhost69 Author

    Nice work! Isn't it crazy how many different crops were created just from a plant that was breed to have different features? My mind was blown when I learned that they are all related even though they are so wildly varied on stems, leaves, buds and flowers. Cabbage and Cauliflower, sure. But when you look at kohlrabi and broccoli, it becomes even more astonishing.
    On a side note, I definitely noticed improvement. Whatever was causing the smiling between cuts was noticeable and you flowed more naturally in those clips. Also that drone footage was exemplary. Great work!

  19. Tina Tuck Author

    cut the leaves off your brussel sprouts as they will make them grow taller and produce more buds and also will let your other plants get more sun.

  20. Chris Author

    here in melbourne i dont bother with brassicas in warm season, way too many caterpillars. grow them successfully over the cold season for harvest early spring, when we get a crazy mix of cool and warm temps. today is 3rd day of spring, 30C..tomorrow 16C.

  21. stephanie Author

    i had severe problem with eel worm nematodes on my potatoes,found white mustard seed in the beds after is good as it makes the nematode cysts hard so they get dramatically reduced!
    Check they are right mustard seeds though.


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