Cabbage, a plant cultivated by gardeners of all abilities due to its low maintenance needs, is known for its diverse uses. The plant ranges from green cabbage to savoy and makes an ideal choice for novice and seasoned gardeners. Its ability to withstand light frosts and cold weather only adds to its appeal. Not to mention, cabbage is a nutritious vegetable which is easy to farm and is widely incorporated in various cuisines.
Growing cabbage in Canada can be relatively easy, but several factors need to be considered before beginning. With a climate that ranges from the chill of northern winters to the heat of southern summers, there’s a variety to handle. This guide on how to grow cabbage will set you on the path to success in cultivating this crop.
About The Plant Cabbage
The cabbage, or Brassica oleracea, is a leafy green vegetable known for its tightly packed leaves that create a round, flattened, or pointed head. The middle of the cabbage head contains a short, robust stem, also known as the core. Numerous cabbage cultivars have different appearances, such as those with curly leaves, purple hue, and ornamental cabbage varieties specifically cultivated for their aesthetic appeal rather than their dietary use.
Usually, gardeners tend to grow cabbage annually during one growing season to ensure its optimal quality. This cool-season vegetable ideally thrives when grown in the spring or fall seasons and exhibits a relatively quick growth rate.
Cabbage is highly versatile in the kitchen. When it’s raw, it creates a zesty and crunchy flavour in slaw and salads. You can braise it, use it in stir-fries, stuff it, incorporate it into soups, use it in egg roll stuffing, or ferment it to create sauerkraut and kimchi.
When To Plant
Cabbage, a crop that thrives in cool weather, can be planted outdoors a few weeks prior to the last spring frost in your region, provided that the soil conditions are suitable.
- If you wish for a summer harvest, begin by planting seeds indoors roughly 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost of the spring.
- If you aim for a fall harvest, sow your seeds directly outside (or use transplants) in the middle to end of summer. If your location is characterized by excessive heat and dryness, wait until the end of summer to plant. Be conscious to prevent the young plants from drying out due to the intense heat of the summer sun!
How To Plant Cabbage
The seeds, which are round and approximately the size of a mustard seed, are sufficiently simple for novice gardeners and kids to engage in the process of planting. You can either sow the seeds directly in the garden or start seeds indoors to be transplanted later.
From Cabbage Seeds
To plant cabbages, you should begin by sowing cabbage seeds indoors during the early part of spring, aiming for six to eight weeks before the final expected frost. Alternatively, you could plant them in the later summer days for a fall harvest.
Considering that these seeds can sprout in cool temperatures, there is no need for a heating mat when planting cabbage indoors. Push the seeds gently into a starter mix until they are barely covered, ensuring they aren’t buried more than half an inch deep in the soil.
Plant the seeds at a depth of approximately 1/4 of an inch. After that, thin seedlings at intervals of roughly 18 inches to 2 feet apart. There’s no need for any form of support structure. On the other hand, you can randomly disperse your seeds on the soil surface and then manually remove any planted seedlings too close to each other.
Carefully eliminate the surplus seedlings, leaving only the most vigorous ones. Planting them nearby will result in smaller cabbage heads.
As germination occurs in the cabbage seeds, sprouts will rise through the soil. Keep the cabbage seedlings indoors until they have grown to about three to four inches, having at least four or five leaves each.
Plant in your garden when the plants are approximately three to four inches high or two to four weeks before the final frost, ensuring each plant is spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. Crucially, ensure they are not root-bound or experiencing stress, as this could hinder their development. Always remember that strong and young, healthy plants will likely grow into the most vigorous adult cabbages.
How To Grow Cabbage Plants
Cabbage can survive in sandy and clay soils, but the best results come from enhancing the planting bed with garden compost and well-aged manure. A location that enjoys full sunlight (direct exposure for 6 to 8 hours a day) is ideal for cabbage cultivation.
Since cabbage tends to exhaust the soil nutrients rapidly, it requires constant water and nutrients throughout its growth phase. Therefore, adding plenty of compost or aged manure to the garden bed before planting is crucial due to its heavy-feeding nature.
For those practicing square-foot gardening, it’s recommended to plant a single cabbage in every 1-2 squares. However, if not, the plants should be positioned 18-24 inches apart, subject to the particular variety.
Aromatic herbs positively affect cabbage plants as they not only improve the taste but also keep undesirable pests at bay. Planting sage or rosemary nearby is a fruitful way to discourage cabbage moths.
Refrain from planting cabbages near other Brassica varieties, like broccoli, as they could lure similar pests and infections. Steering clear strawberries is advisable since they can obstruct the growth of cabbage family plants. Likewise, planting cabbage near tomatoes can negatively affect the growth of tomato plants.
Growing container cabbages is another feasible option, even though the yield may be less.
How To Care Of Your Cabbage
The shallow root systems of cabbages necessitate more frequent soil moisture compared to other domesticated vegetables, so it’s crucial to maintain the soil moist. For optimal growth, it’s recommended to water them early in the day to allow the plant’s above-ground parts to dry out as fast as possible.
Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure good air circulation and prevent the plants from becoming too clustered. Maintaining the garden and raking up any fallen leaves or debris can help increase airflow, preventing cabbage diseases and improving soil moisture.
Cabbage thrives best with approximately six hours of direct sunlight each day. However, it can also withstand mild shade, particularly in hotter climates.
Cabbage grows best in a loamy, well-drained soil that is abundant in organic matter. Prior to planting, it is beneficial to incorporate some compost into the soil. The optimal soil pH for cabbage is slightly acidic to neutral, ideally ranging from 6.5 to 7.5. It is advisable to lime acidic soil to protect against the fungal disease known as clubroot.
Two weeks following the transplant, consistently add compost on the sides every few weeks to preserve the soil’s richness. Alternatively, an evenly balanced organic vegetable fertilizer of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (10-10-10 NPK) can be used. After three weeks, apply a fertilizer high in nitrogen, as cabbage requires nitrogen during its initial stages.
Cabbage thrives best when grown from 25ºF to 80ºF (9º-27ºC) and can tolerate frost down to 20ºF. Cabbage exposed to excessively hot or cold weather will fail to form a head and bolt. Additionally, overly warm weather can lead to the splitting of cabbage heads. Therefore, it is advisable to plan your cabbage planting so that the harvest falls within the cooler climate.
A lightweight row cover can be used to safeguard your plants from cabbage moths. For protection against early damage, row coverings are also beneficial. They should be put in place at the time of planting and removed before the onset of the extreme heat in mid-summer.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Cabbage loopers and cabbage worms are the primary cabbage pests that threaten cabbage, causing significant damage by eating holes in the leaves. Heat or water stress also often paves the way for an aphid infestation.
Clubroot, downy mildew, and black rot are serious fungal diseases that can attack cabbage. Once plants are infected, there’s little you can do apart from uprooting the infected plants. Therefore, it is advisable to remove the entire plant, including the roots, after harvesting.
To enhance your cabbage’s resistance to such diseases, consider planting disease-resistant varieties or seeds that have undergone a hot water treatment. The goal should be well-drained soil, and regular watering with compost tea can aid in combatting these issues.
How To Harvest Cabbage Correctly
The duration between seeding and harvesting can differ based on the variety and can take between two to five months. For cabbages, the appropriate time to harvest is when the heads have grown significantly and are hard. One can determine its readiness by feeling the firmness of the head.
To harvest, keep the broad exterior leaves intact and use a sharp knife to cut out the center head.
- Gently separate the wide outer leaves from the cabbage head, identifying the point where they connect to the head.
- With a large knife, remove the head of the cabbage from the center, ensuring its immediate placement in a cool area to prevent wilting.
- If the whole plant needs to be removed, pull it up from the ground and discard it. However, for early-season harvests or fast-growing cabbage varieties, the plant might produce another head, so consider the growing time for your region before removing the entire plant.
Cabbage can last up to two months in the refrigerator. When storing, do not remove the outer cabbage leaves from the head, but store the head whole to protect the tender core.
Storing The Harvest
To retain moisture and protect the interior layers, do not remove the leaves from the cabbage heads before storing them, and do not wash them until they are ready to be used. You should store cabbage in a cold and moist place, ideally between 32 to 40°F. If storing them in the refrigerator, keep them in plastic bags to retain moisture. A head of cabbage can usually last anywhere from three weeks to two months in the fridge.
If you’ll use a root cellar for storage, place the heads spaced apart in rows, suspend them from the ceiling using a string, or individually store them on the floor wrapped in newspaper. Cabbages can last up to four months if stored in this way.
Varieties Of Cabbage To Grow
Numerous varieties of cabbage are available, and you can select one suitable for your growing period and necessity.
Polar Green, Green Express, Charmant, Sunup, and Belbro are popular green cabbage varieties. If you prefer the red kind, some options are Ruby Ball, Red Acre, and Red Perfection. If you are looking for mid-season varieties, consider looking into Survivor, Sanabel, Green Express, Shamrock, Super Red, and Prime Time.
For late storage varieties, Bartolo, Hinova, and Zerlina might be your best bet. The category of Savoy cabbages includes Savoy King, Chieftain, Ice Prince, and Ice Queen.
Cabbage offers remarkable diversity, essential nutrients, and versatility as a produce in your garden and kitchen. Its cultivation, which is mainly carefree following planting, can be achieved by virtually anyone provided access to rich soil, appropriate irrigation from a drip or soaker hose, accurate spacing, and cool seasons to plant. Its most notable aspect is its longevity, as cabbage can be stored during harsh winters.
As a versatile vegetable that can be sautéed, roasted, or stewed, cabbage remains a fundamental ingredient for any serious gardener.