Cabbage has long been valued for its health benefits that are now backed by scientific research. Each valuable head is loaded with beta-carotene, vitamins C and K and plenty of fiber. There are dozens of ways to enjoy cabbage from soups to salads; stuffed cabbage rolls to fish tacos. People have been cultivating cabbage for over 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest vegetables around. Before planting cabbage on their own, they learned to harvest the wild cabbages that grew along the coastline in western Europe.
How to Grow Cabbage
Cabbage is a cool-season vegetable that needs to be planted at the right time, either early or late in the season. Cabbage can handle a light frost, but plants can bolt (flower) if there’s an extended cold spell of several weeks or more. Watch weather forecasts carefully and plan to set out transplants two to three weeks before the last expected frost date or when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees.
Cabbage plants need sunshine, so find a good-sized garden spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. Avoid planting cabbage where cabbage or any of its brassica relatives (cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) grew in the previous two or three seasons.
- If you want to start cabbage plants from seed, allow 6 weeks of indoor growing to get them to the transplant size. Otherwise, purchase transplants from the Garden Center and gradually acclimate plants to outdoor conditions before planting time.
- Cabbage is a plant that likes fertile soil. Amend the garden bed with plenty of organic matter before planting. It’s also helpful to broadcast a 5-10-10 fertilizer over the garden before planting.
- Cabbage transplants are ready to plant in the garden when there are five or six leaves on each plant. Allow 18 to 24 inches between plants so they’ll have room to spread out and grow into nice-sized heads.
- Set transplants so the lowest leaves are at ground level. Water well after transplanting and keep the soil consistently moist. Water at soil level only and avoid getting the leaves wet to prevent foliar problems.
- Be sure to add a layer of organic mulch, like straw, to keep weeds down and eliminate the need for hoeing between rows and harming roots.
- Several weeks after planting, when plants are 5 inches tall, sidedress cabbage plants with a rich compost or complete fertilizer. Maintain fertilizing through the season, especially when the heads begin to form. Stop fertilizing when cabbages begin to mature to avoid giving them too much nitrogen.
- Insect pests can ruin a cabbage crop in no time, so think ahead to prevent the two most common problems, cabbage root flies and cabbageworm butterflies:
- Place cabbage collars on the soil around plant stem to prevent cabbage root flies from laying eggs on the soil near stems.
- Cover young plants with row cover cloth to prevent cabbageworm butterflies from laying eggs. An alternative is to apply Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) as soon as you see small white moths flying near plants. The easiest way to apply Bt is by shaking the dust over plants. Reapply after a rain or once a week until it’s no longer needed. Always follow label instructions.
- Cabbage heads often look ready to harvest before they’re fully formed. Test the cabbage by squeezing the heads to make sure each feels solid. If the inner leaves feel loose, let it continue to grow, using the squeeze test every few days.
- Over-ripe cabbage is just as bad as under ripe. Heads can split if left in the garden too long or if the temperatures get too hot.
- Be sure to make a clean cut at the base of the plant when it’s ripe. Leave a few of the outer leaves on the heads to help them store longer.
Plant cabbage with these companions:
- Brussels sprouts
Avoid planting near strawberries
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- High-quality compost
- Complete 5-10-10 fertilizer
- Soaker hose
- Row cover cloth
To learn more about growing cabbage or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.