How to Grow Cabbage:

Cabbage, growing cabbage, home grown cabbage, harvesting cabbage, eating cabbageThe cabbage originated from the Wild Mustard plant, which was common along the seacoast of the northern Mediterranean. It was well known to the Greeks and Romans who used it as a staple in their diets. It was known for medicinal qualities as a cure-all and oddly enough, to prevent drunkenness.

Cabbages grow best in the cool climates of the extreme northern, costal regions.  These areas benefit from long, sunny days with moderate summer temperatures.  Many of the world record cabbages have been crowned at the Alaskan State Fair.  The most recent record holder weighed in at 125.9 pounds (57.1 kilograms).

Planting and Growing Cabbage:

Cabbage, growing cabbage in the garden, home grown cabbage, growing a big cabbageSow cabbage indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.  Transplant outdoors when there are at least two sets of true leaves, spacing them 12 to 18 inches (30 cm) apart, being careful not to disturb roots, as they do not like being transplanted. Seeds can also be directly sown outdoors 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost, using a row cover to raise the soil temperature.  Spread mulch 3 inches (5 to 6 cm) deep around the plants to protect the shallow roots and keep the root system moist. Keep the area weed free without disturbing roots, especially right after transplanting when roots are trying to take hold.

The cabbage family is a heavy feeder and needs soil rich in nutrients.  Prepare the soils in the fall with good compost. After planting, spread an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous.  Cabbage has a tender, shallow root system that needs consistent moisture levels.  Keep the soil moisture levels consistently moist but not saturated.  The mulch will help to control the soils from becoming dry and too warm.

Cabbage can be sowed again 10 to 12 weeks prior to the first frost date for a late fall harvest.  Some varieties can even be grown over winter for an early spring harvest.

Cabbages are prone to bolting, meaning they send up shoots and go to seed.  Shoots will emerge from the head, splitting the head and ruining the quality of the cabbage taste.  Bolting is typically caused when the plant is stressed by heat, lack of water caused by competition from weeds or under watering, or damage to the roots.  Also, sharp changes in weather patterns can induce the plant to bolt.  This typically happens when cool, wet springs finally turn into warm, dry summers; great for business at the local pool but not for the cabbage.  Again, mulching and consistent moisture levels will aid in keeping free from stress.

Harvesting and Preserving Cabbage:

A cabbage can be harvested anytime after the head reaches the size of a baseball, but many people allow their cabbage heads to get much bigger.  With early cabbage that was planted in the spring, cut just below the head, then slice a cross pattern into the stump.  This can sometimes stimulate smaller heads to form that should be harvested when they reach the size of a baseball.  For fall harvested heads, keep them in the ground as long as possible, but pick all the whole plant roots sometime around the first frost. Hang upside down, directly in the root cellar, by tying a string around root ball from a hook or nail.

Another method for keeping fall-harvested cabbage is to pull the plant roots and all.  Remove all the leaves, but keep the head and roots intact.  Place the cabbage somewhere where the roots can be covered lightly with damp sand until the head is ready to be used.  Cut the head from the stump, then plant the stump in a pot filled with damp sand and place by a window that receives full sun.  In a few days the stump will begin producing cabbage leaves that can be eaten over winter.

Cabbage can be cut, washed and frozen in freezer bags; however, when thawed they will wilt, so they will best eaten in a cooked dish.

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