Friday, November 27, 2009

The Mustard Family

The mustard family, Cruciferae or Brassicaceae, is one of the important families of flowering bee plants. Many of the members of the mustard family are valuable to the honey bee as a source of nectar and pollen. The mustards provide food for both the honey bee and for man. A number of the mustards are garden vegetables. Cultivated members include cabbage, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, turnip, radish, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, cauliflower, horseradish, watercress, and Brussels sprouts. Rapeseed is a mustard which is often known by the name canola, which is derived from “Canada oil.” The cultivated members of the mustard family are usually grown as cool-season crops, producing vegetable greens in the fall and spring. One of the members of the mustard family, yellow rocket, often covers meadows with bright yellow blossoms in the spring. Yellow rocket is a significant source of nectar where it exists.

Today’s photo shows some purple top turnips that are growing in one of our clover fields. A benefit of growing cool-season crops like the mustards is that they require almost no care. Planted in the late summer or early fall, the small plants have very little competition from other plants. If turnip seed is planted in late August or early September, there is a good chance of the plants producing the turnips at the base of the greens in the fall before winter's freeze. Both greens and turnips are delicious table fare; many prefer them cooked together. Turnip greens, seasoned with salt and a piece of pork fat, are a staple and delicacy in the South. If the mustard family vegetable plants, like turnips, mustard, kale, or collards, are left undisturbed in the soil in the spring, the plants will bloom and then produce seed. The blooming mustards are most attractive to honey bees, and the blooms are quite valuable at the honey bee’s spring population build-up time.

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