Tips for Growing Cabbage
Cabbage is a staple crop for many cultures. It’s a high performing, easy to store vegetable that grows just as other things are dying down in the height of summer. Building a buffer crop of cabbage is one of the best things you can do for your gardening practice.
Before we begin, check out this infographic on 10 Reasons to Eat More Cabbage
What Does Cabbage Need?
If you’ve had trouble with bitter, slow growing cabbage, you’ve probably planted too close to the heat of summer. To reach peak taste and growth, Cabbage benefits from a touch of frost and thrives during a cool growing season.
It’s best to start cabbage indoors six to eight weeks before your expected fall frost date. Once your seedlings reach two to three inches in height, begin to harden them off so that you can transplant them.
There are different ways to harden seedlings. The most common way is to slowly increase the time they spend outside by a few hours every day until they are outside all the time. Be careful to maintain moisture and watch their sun exposure.
When seedlings are ready, transplant them two to three weeks before your expected frost date. This way, they will have time to get established in the soil before frost hits. Plant them 12 to 24 inches apart in rows. The closer together, the smaller the heads of each cabbage will be.
It’s best to mulch so that the soil will retain even moisture and soil temperatures will regulate. This ensures even growth and helps to discourage pests.
How Do I Find a Place?
Cabbage will bolt under intense sunlight, so it’s best to plant in a spot that will get soft morning light but be at least partially shaded in the afternoon if you are planting in the fall.
In the spring, sunlight isn’t as strong, so it’s best to choose an area with full afternoon sun so that cabbage will gather enough energy to form heads.
Though broccoli and cauliflower have similar nutrient requirements, all three are heavy feeders. It’s best to keep cabbage away from these two plants so that they don’t deplete the soil faster than usual.
It’s not a good idea to plant cabbage near strawberries and tomatoes, but if you are succession planting, you can place them near beans and cucumbers.
How Do I Care for Cabbage?
Shredded bark or straw helps regulate moisture and amend the soil so that cabbage thrives. One problem with cabbage is that during periods of heavy rain, plants are susceptible to splitting.
If your cabbage plants are splitting, it can help to chop the roots cleanly on two sides to help slow the intake of water. Otherwise, mulch or covers can help.
What Are Potential Problems?
Cabbage is susceptible to fungal problems which cause yellowing and wilting of the leaves. One way to prevent this is to water at the base of the plant and to make sure to remove debris from the base of the plant. If you mulch, make sure there is at least a half inch of space from the base of each head.
Cabbage also attracts cabbage worms. These can be picked off by hand easily to help maintain plant health. You can also use row covers to prevent them from landing in the first place, but make sure to remove the corners in warmer temperatures so that the plants don’t scorch.
Planting dill next to cabbage attracts beneficial predatory wasps to control other types of pests. Heavy infestations of pests can be controlled using organic sprays, never chemical, with bi-weekly applications.
Harvesting and Storage
When heads are a good size, check for firmness. Firm heads can be cut cleanly from the stalk and stored in the refrigerator for two weeks, possibly longer, and if you have a root cellar or other storage, your fall crop will keep even longer. Be sure to check the heads carefully before storing so that you don’t inadvertently create a haven for pests.
If you want to save seeds from your cabbage, be aware that this is a multi-year process. Cabbage produces seeds during the second year of the growth cycle and only after being exposed to colder temperatures.
If you live in a climate in which cabbage can overwinter, then there’s nothing you need to do but allow one or two heads to lay through the winter. You can check the package of your variety to see if it is hardy enough to do this. Otherwise, storing the whole plant, or using a cold box is another option.
Cabbage is an excellent crop to plant during the leaner fall and spring seasons, and its ease of growth and storage make it a perfect succession plant to begin your fall gardening practice.