Leafy brassicas are probably the most important of all the hundreds of varieties of veg that we grow. They are incredibly productive, versatile and healthy, plus they are one of the most sprayed of vegetables and difficult to find grown organically.

Most food commentators recommend that you eat them at least 2 or 3 times a week and in our house it's rare that we go without them in some form every day.

When it comes to brassicas though you have quite a few options, not all of them traditionally thought of as leafy, here's how we think about the main members of the brassica family:

  1. The cabbages, which can be eaten hearted or loose leaf. We tend to eat them loose if we can as they are healthier that way, we get to harvest over a long period and we get less slug dammage
  2. The flowers, these come in three main variants, the cauliflowers, the calabrese and the sprouting broccolis. Although these can be grown for most of the year, we don't generally try for a continuous year round harvest of them because their yield at certain times of year is very poor and/or we have so many alternatives
  3. The kales, of which there are a great many, with very varied tastes and textures. Sometimes we hear people say they don't like kale and we always find a variety they like in the end
  4. The sprouts, of which there are two main variants: Brussels sprouts and Kalettes and I've linked to the individual growing guides for these.

I'm going to include all of the above in this chapter on leafy greens, because you can eat the leaves of all of them, although cauliflowers are the least palatable in my view and hence bottom of our list of priorities.

Prioritising what to grow

Although I always recommend people grow what they like, all thing being equal I recommend leafy greens over flowering brassicas. Of course some flowering brassicas have excellent leaves, which bumps them up the priority list. Here's my top ten list though, see the end of this chapter for suggested varieties:

  1. Kalettes: these are the very pinnacle of brassicas in my humble opinion, they have excellent leaves from July onwards and wonderful Brussels sprout like clusters of leaves on the stem in winter and early spring. The yield is much greater than Brussels, they are fast to harvest and clean up, extremely healthy and very reliable. They do however need very well prepared ground (see later)
  2. Brussels sprouts: so much more than the sprouts themselves! Brussels can be sown in October or late winter for an abundant supply of the loveliest tasting leaves from May to July or in March for leaves, tops and Brussels in winter and early spring. It's almost possible to enjoy some of the Brussels sprout plant all year round.
  3. Kale: there are so many kales and they are superb in summer and autumn. Their main advantage is the ability to get a continuous harvest over a very long period of time. Pick your varieties carefully and you can get a new season harvest in June and although yield drops you can still be eating them and their wonderful flowers in May.
  4. Taunton Deane perennial kale: provides tasty leaves all year round, but it is especially valuable in late spring and early summer when other kales are in short supply. Many people who dislike true kales, like this one and of course being perennial it keeps on going for several years and propagates easily from cuttings.
  5. Spring cabbage: Probably the easiest way to get brassica greens in the 'hungry gap' spring cabbages are brilliant. I recommend starting them close together in a seed bed (or keeping them in pots) and then transplanting them in late autumn or winter. That way they take up a lot less valuable growing space in autumn.
  6. Calabrese: Forced to choose we prefer calabrese over cauliflower because of the potential for plentiful side shoots. Provided it's well watered and grown on well prepared ground a March sowing will give heads in July and side shoots for another month, as well as lovely leaves.
  7. Purple sprouting broccoli: PSB needs almost a full year in the ground and has only a moderate yield and as such has little to recommend it apart from it's taste and the time of harvest. Depending on the variety it's available from late autumn, through to early spring, but it's the spring varieties that are most valuable, coming as they do just at the start of the 'hungry gap' when most other brassicas are ending. Unless you have a lot of space though I don't recommend the summer and autumn flowering variants. Remember though that the leaves are also very good eating, especially the smaller ones.
  8. Red cabbage: of all the cabbages the red cabbages are king for me, they are ready in autumn when other brassicas are in shorter supply, look beautiful and are very versatile. Has the advantage that it can be harvested in time to plant field beans and garlic, giving you an extra harvest.
  9. Purple cauliflowers: although we grow quite a few cauiflowers, we love the purple varieties best, rather than growing a summer variety of purple sprouting broccoli, try Graffiti instead!
  10. Savoy cabbage: excellent in winter, but very prone to slug damage and available at a time when there are lots of other alternatives: kale, Brussels sprouts, Brussels sprout tops, Brussels sprout leaves, kalettes, perennial kale and purple sprouting broccoli. Also ties up the ground for a long time.

I will eventually have growing guides for each of these types of leafy brassicas, however for now I have this overview.

Sowing and seedlings


I always sow brassica seeds into a germination pot and then prick them out into modules when they are about 10 days old. This saves a lot of space and allows me to plant the stems in the compost, resulting in nice stocky, well rooted plants.


For fast growing brassicas, sown in spring/summer I won't pot on into larger pots. Preferring to plant into the ground when young.

I also grow a lot of brassicas over winter, sowing in September/October and then keeping in pots in the polytunnel until they are planted out in late winter/early spring. I will pot these on once.