MARCH – SPRING GREENS!
No matter what time of year it is there is nearly always cabbage available! For those who plan ahead, they will be starting to tuck into their first helpings of spring greens (I am not yet one of these people!). This is one of the veg that will see us through the hungry gap of April and May, full of nutritious vitamins and minerals, it can be eaten as a side to your main meal or can be the main focus of your dish.
Spring greens are part of the Brassica family and are like cabbage leaves. Technically, spring greens come from plants that don’t form a head or form a loose one unlike most other cabbages which forms a tightly packed head. They can also refer to young cabbages that haven’t had time to form a head as well as thinnings and leaves from other Brassicas such as kale, turnips and swedes. In the US, collard greens are similar to the UK’s spring greens. Like any Brassica, they are subject to the same viruses, diseases and pests; cabbage white fly, club root and pigeons being the main culprits for losing these tasty leaves.
A very short history!!
Cabbages are believed to have been a part of our diet for over 4000 years although not much is known about it as a food source before Greek and Roman times. (As I live a stone’s throw away from Stonehenge, it’s nice to think that the people who built it were possibly growing and eating a similar thing as me!) The greens that we eat now are believed to originate from two or three common ancestors that resulted in the wide variety of Brassicas we eat now!
Why we should eat Spring Greens?
Spring greens are a lovely nutritious vegetable that are chocked full of vitamins and minerals! Their open-hearted form means that the leaves are able to produce more chlorophyll (more photosynthesis) hence the dark green of the leaves and like all dark green leafy veg this means more vitamin K! Vitamin K is very important within the body and is involved in synthesis of blood clotting proteins and help build strong bones. In fact, spring greens can provide you with nearly 600% of your RDA per 100g! Amazeballs!!! They are also high in vitamin A and C as well as calcium
Since they are part of the Brassica family they also have cancer fighting and anti-inflammatory compounds such as sulforaphane and indoles (As I am a scientist by trade, I used to be part of a project that investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane and so I can seriously vouch for the goodness of brassicas!)
The table opposite shows you how deliciously good this vegetable is for us!
How to grow Spring Greens.
Seeds can be started off in a propagator, in a seed bed or where they are to crop depending on your preference. To start getting a lovely harvest of loose headed, dark green cabbage leaves in spring, you need to think about sowing seeds mid-late summer so you won’t have to worry about frosts killing your seedlings!
Prepare the ground or a good seed compost and sow seeds to a depth of 1cm. Sow the seeds thinly and cover lightly. If you are planting outdoors in multiple rows then make sure you leave at least 15cm between each row. Seeds should germinate in 7-14 days.
Transplant young plants when they are approximately 10cm tall and have 5 or 6 leaves on them. Try and avoid doing this on a really hot day to avoid water loss! Plants should be spaced at 25-30cm intervals when transplanting. Being careful not to damage the stem, firm down around the pant to anchor the plants in.
Mature loose or open-hearted heads can be harvested from March onwards and should be used quite quickly after harvesting. They do not keep for long. The best quality greens can be blanched and frozen if you have a glut.
Cooking with spring greens
Springs greens are fantastic as a delicious side dish lightly steamed or stir-fried. They can also be added into soups and stews.
Here are a few recipes for your Spring greens!