The Brassica family, sad onions, and Spring cleaning

Dear Readers,

Mustards! I had never eaten a mustard leaf until I worked on a farm in New Hampshire several years ago, where the farmers, Bob and Jen, grew a whole plot of different mustards greens and sold them in a salad mix. The taste of that Golden Frill variety (spring green, with delicate leaves and a horseradish kick) opened my mind to the world of vegetables beyond the grocery store. 

Brassica is the genus name for the mustard family. There are multiple theories about the etymology of the word “Brassica.” The word may come from Latin, meaning “to devour.” A second theory: Celtic for “cabbage.” A third: Greek for “crackle,” referring to the noise that cabbages and their relatives make when leaves are taken from the stem. The many possibilities for the etymology’s origin reflect that Brassicas have been grown all over the world for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 

Brassica plants include mustard greens, broccoli and cauliflower, kale, rutabaga, turnips, radishes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi (one variety that we grow is called Kolibri Kohlrabi, which cracks me up). You might think that spinach and chard are in the Brassica family, but they’re in an entirely different family, called Chenopodiaceae (try spelling that backwards). 

I harvested kale raab– the flowering stems of kale plants, a bit like broccoli raab, with a sweeter flavor– on Thursday for the CSA. The kale had that familiar broccoli smell about them, which my coworkers from last season and I call “Brassica farts.” All Brassica plants have that farty kind of smell. It got me thinking about Brassica plants, and how crazy they are…..

For example, have you ever seen a Brussels sprouts plant? It looks like this:


Courtesy of

How ridiculous is that?

Also, the color of baby red cabbage plants is incredible:


Courtesy of

Anyway. The Brassicas at North Star are doing SO well. The seedlings of kale, kohlrabi, and broccoli that we planted in the upper field are perky and their color is strong and healthy, which is really heartening because right next to them, the onions are struggling for reasons unknown. We think it’s because of the Spring’s strange, extreme weather patterns right around the time we planted them. Their tips are light brown instead of green, and some of them look wilted or have died. It’s a good thing we planted so many… we’ll hopefully have plenty of onions, despite those that died.

Over the past several weeks, we pulled up the spicy mustard greens and the rainbow chard in the greenhouse that fed our Winter CSA members throughout the cold months. Some of those plants were taller than me, they had been in the ground for so long! It felt wonderful to do spring cleaning– returning the old plants that sustained us to the earth, making room for the summer bounty. First we harvested as much of the greens as we could and stored them in the cooler, for the farm crew to take home. Then we pulled up each plant until they were piled high, and carried them in heavy armfuls to the tractor, where we dumped them in the front loader. Kelly drove them to the compost pile, and now we have wonderful space in the greenhouse. We already planted our first tomatoes!

On Monday, we’ll begin spring cleaning in the orchard– “thinning,” or pinching off tiny baby fruits from the branches in order to make room for strong fruit to grow. More on that next week. 

As always: ask questions, make comments, and feel free to request a blog topic! 

Your so-ready-for-summer-farmer,

Laura Beth




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