Growing Crops: Cabbage

This post refers to common cabbage that you would put in coleslaw, rather than Chinese Cabbage – which we will cover soon! There are so many cabbage varieties, it’s difficult to know where to begin. The varieties you choose to grow will depend on when you want to harvest them – because cabbage can be harvested year-round.

Spring harvest varieties include: Earliana, Early Jersey Wakefield, Emerald Cross Hybrid, Flower of Spring, Lasso, Spring Hero F1, Stonehead, and Wintergreen.

Summer harvest varieties include: Chieftan Savoy, Copenhagen Market, Crimson, Early Flat Dutch, Golden Acre, Minicole F1, Red Acre, Ruby Ball, Ruby Perfection, Savoy Ace, and Stonehead F1.

Fall harvest varieties include: Cuor di Blue, Danish Ballhead, Julius, Late Flat Dutch, and Hardora F1.

Winter harvest varieties include: Best of All, Christmas Drumhead, January King, Vertus, and Wisconsin All Seasons.

Of course, not all of these varieties are easy to find. Check with your local nursery to see what is available, particularly if you are wanting the less common Spring, Fall, and Winter varieties. For a pair of dependable Summer harvest varieties – one green, one red – click on either (or both) of the links below:

Best Climate to Grow: Cabbage will grow well almost anywhere except in extreme heat. Most varieties are frost hardy.

Light Requirements: Full sun to lightly filtered sunlight.

Soil Requirements: Fertile, heavier soil that nevertheless drains well, is rich in nitrogen, with a pH level that is neutral to very slightly acidic. Amend as needed to adjust nitrogen levels, pH and soil density.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Fertilize twice a month with hydrolyzed fish or any organic fertilizer with a 10% or higher nitrogen content, as cabbages require lots of nitrogen. Soil should be moist at all times, but not wet; drip irrigation and a thick mulch of compost are recommended to retain moisture, as the root system is very shallow.

When to Plant: That will depend on the varieties you choose to grow, so you will need to consult your seed packet. In general, however, Spring harvest varieties should be started indoors 1-2 months before the last frost date, then hardened off and transplanted once there is no longer the threat of frost. Summer harvest varieties should be sown directly in the ground about the same time you are transplanting your Spring varieties. Fall harvest varieties should be sown directly in the ground 3½-4 months prior to the first frost date in the Fall. Winter varieties should be sown directly in the ground 1-2 months prior to the first frost date in the Fall.

Planting Depth and Spacing: If sowing directly in the ground, plant the seeds ½ inch deep for all varieties. For the Spring and Summer varieties, the seeds should be planted 1½ feet apart in rows that are 2 feet apart. For the Autumn and Winter varieties, the seeds should be planted 2 feet apart in rows that are 2½ feet apart. If starting seeds indoors, wait until the seedlings are at least 4 inches tall and have 6 leaves before hardening off and transplanting at the aforementioned space intervals, depending on the seasonal variety.

Container Requirements: In general, not recommended for containers due to space constraints and the length of time it takes to grow one head. However, if you are adamant about your cabbage, we recommend a wide container that is at least 8 inches deep. For sheer economical purposes, stick with one of the Spring varieties – you can actually get 5 heads from one plant. After you harvest the first head, cut an X on the stalk with a sharp knife, which will cause the plant to produce 4 additional, smaller heads. Cabbage grown in containers will require more frequent feeding, and drip irrigation specifically for containers is recommended.

Harvesting and Storage: For the Summer, Fall, and Winter varieties, slice off the heads with a sharp knife when they have become large and firm. Pull up the plant and add it to the compost pile if there is no evidence of disease. For the Spring varieties, slice off the head and then cut an X on the stalk to grow 4 more heads before being discarded in the compost pile. Cabbage will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator if stored properly (a lettuce keeper container is ideal). It can be pickled and canned for sauerkraut.

Harvesting Seeds: Not recommended. Cabbage easily cross-pollinates with other brassica family members – such as broccoli- and would need to be grown separately, at least 100 yards away from any relatives (just how big is your yard?). In addition, cabbage is actually a biennal grown as an annual, so you would need to leave your cabbage plants grown for seed in place for two years. The process of seed collection is also difficult, as the seeds from the flowering heads are easily spilled before you can collect them.

Pests to Monitor: Cabbage Root Flies, Cabbage White Butterflies and their voracious larvae, Flea Beetles, Pigeons, Slugs, and Snails. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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