How to Grow Cabbage

Cabbage in Raised BedCabbage is a cool-weather crop. Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. Sow seed outdoors when the soil can be worked in spring. Place transplants in the garden when they are 3 to 4 inches tall as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring. In mild-winter regions, start seed in late summer for a winter or spring harvest.

Description. Cabbage is a hardy biennial grown as a cool-weather annual that can tolerate frost but not heat. Cabbage grows an enlarged terminal bud of broad, overlapping leaves called a head atop a short, stubby stem. Heads can be round, flat, or pointed. Leaves can be smooth or crinkled in shades of green or reddish-purple and the head can be round, flat or pointed. Cabbage varieties can come to harvest early in the season, midseason, or late season. Exposed to severe frost, too little moisture, or too much heat cabbage will not form a head but instead bolt and go directly to seed. Cabbage heads–which are mostly water–will expand and split if the weather grows too warm as the heads take up water more quickly than the moisture can transpire from tightly wrapped leaves.

Yield. Plant 4 to 8 plants for each household member.

Site. Grow cabbage in soil rich in organic matter that is well-drained. Cabbage grows best where the soil pH is between 6.5 and 7.5. Add plenty of well-aged compost to planting beds before planting. In regions where the soil is sandy or where there is heavy rain, supplement the soil with nitrogen.

Planting time. Cabbage grows best in regions where there is a long, cool growing season with temperatures between 45° and 75°F. Cabbage can tolerate frost and briefly temperatures as low as 20°F. Cabbage will bolt and go to seed in temperatures greater than 80°F. Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. Sow seed outdoors when the soil can be worked in spring. Place transplants in the garden when they are 3 to 4 inches tall as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring. In cool-summer regions, plant cabbage in late spring for a fall harvest. In mild-winter regions, start seed in late summer for a winter or spring harvest. Cabbage comes to harvest in 80 to 180 days from seed and in 60 to 105 days from transplants depending upon the variety.

Planting and spacing. Sow cabbage seeds ½ inch deep spaced 1 inch apart; thin plants to 18 to 24 inches apart. Transplant cabbage to the garden when plants are 4 to 6 weeks old with 4 to 5 true leaves. Set leggy or crooked stemmed plants deeply, up to their first true leaves. Space seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Plant succession crops every two weeks or plant seeds and transplant at the same time or plant early and midseason varieties at the same time so that they come to harvest at different times.

Water and feeding. Cabbage requires regular, even watering. Uneven watering can result in stunted or cracked heads. As plants reach maturity, cut back on watering to avoid splitting heads. Fertilize cabbage when plants are established with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as 10-3-3.

Companion plants. Beets, celery, fragrant herbs, onions, potatoes. Avoid pole beans, strawberries, tomatoes.

Savoy cabbage

Savoy cabbage

Care. Cabbage heads will split when they grow too fast and take up too much water. To prevent this damage, twist heads a quarter turn to separate some roots and interrupt water uptake a week in advance of harvest. If heads are small at harvest, add nitrogen to the soil next season and plant earlier.

Container growing. Cabbage grows easily in a container at least 8 inches deep. In large containers grow cabbage on 12 inch centers.

Pests. Cabbage can be attacked by cutworms, cabbage loopers (preceded by small yellow and white moths), and imported cabbage worms. Handpick pests or spray plants with bacillus thuringiensis.

Diseases. Yellow virus, clubroot fungus, and black rot may infect cabbage. Black rot, also called black leg, can survive in the soil for up to 3 years. To avoid disease this disease, rotate crops on a three-year cycle and purchase only seeds that have been hot water treated. Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.

Harvest. Cabbage will be ready for harvest in 80 to 180 days from seed depending on the variety or in 60 to 105 days from transplants. Cut cabbage when heads are firm and the base of the head is 4 to 10 inches across. Harvest before the weather becomes too warm. Cut heads leaving out leaves behind attached to the stem. Small heads will grow from the stalks for later harvest.

Storing and preserving. Cabbage will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks or longer. Cabbage also can be dried and frozen or cured in brine as sauerkraut. Cabbage seeds can be sprouted.

Varieties.

• Green cabbage: Stovehead (60 days); Jersey Wakefield (63 days); Golden Acre (65 days); Market Prize (73 days); Green Boy (75 days); Round Up (76 days); Blue Ribbon (76 days); Blue Boy (78 days); Rio Verde (70 days); Badger Ban Head (98 days); Flat Dutch (105 days).

• Savoy cabbage: Savoy Ace (80 days); Savoy King (85 days).

• Red cabbage: Red Acre (76 days); Red Ball (70 days); Red Ribbon (78 days); Ruby Perfection (90 days).

Varieties by time of harvest.

• Early-season green: Bergkabis, Charmant (52-65 days); Derby Day (58-65 days), Discovery, Dynamo, Early Jersey Wakefield (63-70 dasy); Golden Acre (58-65 days); Jingan; Julius; Mini Cole; Parel; Primo; Stonehead (50-70 days).

• Early-season red: Barteolo; Bentley; Cardinal; Copenhagen Market Red; Lasso; Lennox; Mammoth Red Rock (90-95 days); Red Acre (75-85 days); Red Debut; Red Drumhead (95 days); Red Rodan (140 days); Red Rookie (78 days); Rona Red (98 days), Rougette; Ruby Perfection (83-85 days); Solid Red (83 days).

• Midseason varieties: Blue Vantage (76 days); Copenhagen Market (72 days); Fortuna (80-85 days).

• Late-season varieties: Bruswick; Danish Ballhead (100-105); Gloria; January King; Late Flat Dutch (100-110 days); Savonarch (110 days); Solid Blue; Wivoy.

Common name. Cabbage

Botanical name. Brassica oleracea capitata

Origin. South Europe

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