Cabbage deserves more credit! It’s incredibly high in vitamins A, C, and K, and has an impressive amount of calcium, potassium, and folate. The term “superfood” gets thrown around a lot, but in the case of cabbage with its mild flavors, versatility in recipes, and being so easy to grow, cabbage really is super!
Versatile cabbage can be grown as a relatively quick spring or early summer crop, or it can be planted in late summer for a fall/early winter harvest. It can be eaten fresh out of the garden, added to soups or stews, or stored for months at the end of the season for winter munching.
Green cabbages have blue-green outer leaves and creamy white inner leaves. This cabbage is mild-flavored. Red cabbages produce dark, wine red outer leaves with paler red to pink inner leaves that have a sweet to mild taste. Savoy cabbages have green to blue-green, crinkled, inner and outer leaves. They do not store well, but have an exceptionally good flavor.
Planting and Aftercare:
Starting from seeds will allow more options for variety and control over growing conditions, but if you want or need to buy plants, look for healthy looking plants with medium green leaves. Leaves that are too dark green, or yellowed signal a stressed plant. Also avoid overgrown plants, and check for aphids or other pests clinging to the underside of leaves.
When starting seeds, shoot for 8-10 weeks before your last frost date. In mild climates you can set out plants earlier than the last frost date with the help of a floating row cover for frost protection.
Fill your seed starting pots with your favorite soil starting medium and sow three seeds per pot, about ¼” deep. Water well. Keep pots warm, moist, and covered with plastic or the green house dome that comes with your seed flat. When seedlings appear, remove plastic and place your plants under your grow lights. Keep lights close to the top of the plants to prevent leggy-ness.
When you have two sets of true leaves, thin seedlings to the strongest one plant per cell.
Heading Brassicas like cabbage benefit from a long, slow, hardening off period. Beginning about four weeks before you would like to plant outside in your garden beds, start setting your plants out in a protected spot during the day and bringing them in at night. Start with just an hour on the first day, gradually increasing until the plant babies spend all day outside. During the last week, the week before you are to transplant outside, keep your plants outside at night too. Make sure to keep them under frost cover, even an old sheet will do, as your plants are especially vulnerable when still in their small starter pots.
Transplanting cabbage is traditionally done when daytime temperatures are consistently in the 50’s F. Spacing will be dependent on variety, and can range from 12-24” needed.
Covering plants with floating row covers will greatly help with deterring insects during your plants vulnerable young stage.
Tips for Success:
Cabbage needs soil rich in nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. Deficiencies can cause small, soft heads, yellow leaves, or browned leaf tips. Test the soil (do this every year with your local extension agency) and add nutrients before planting. Cabbage will grow in any average, well-drained soil, but it will produce the best crops in soil that you have amended with organic matter like compost, or well-rotted manure.
Pests to Watch For:
If cabbage leaves show yellow-brown spots, and then entire leaves turn yellow and eventually shrivel, plants may be suffering from black rot. Confirm your diagnosis by cutting a stem and looking for a dark ring inside. Pull up any infected plants.
Cutworms are fat, green, 1 ½” long, fantastically camouflaged, pests. They chew on the area at the top of the cabbage’s roots and on leaves. Place a collar (a cat food can with both ends removed works well) around seedlings to protect them. Remove the collar once the plants are established.
Cabbage Loopers, also known simply as Cabbage Worms, are thin, green caterpillars that chew large, ragged holes in leaves. Cover plants with floating row covers, handpick caterpillars, or spray plants with Bt to control them. As with any pesticide, even the organic ones, make sure to follow the directions on the packaging!
Good news, your chickens will LOVE the worms you picked for them! Or you can just squish them.
Growing Zone and Special Conditions:
Cabbage is easy to grow in all areas of the United States. Early, short season cabbages tend to not store as well, so use those fresh as needed. Plant fall cabbage crops in early to mid-summer, depending on your USDA grow zone. Cabbage is a biennial, meaning it won’t send out a flower until second year of growth, often triggered into flowering by the end of a winter season.
In areas with mild winters, it is possible to over-winter cabbage heads in the garden under frost protection. If that isn’t possible or makes you nervous, harvest heads by cutting from the roots with a knife. If you leave a few leaves on the roots, new (smaller) cabbages will often grow on the stems. If it is late fall and there isn’t enough daylight for growth to continue, you can also just pull up the whole plant, roots and all, and store in a humid, cold, (but not freezing) spot. In traditional root cellars, cabbages were often stored by hanging them upside-down by the roots, from the ceiling.
Written by Sow True Seed's Education Director, Angie Lavezzo.