Days to germination: 5 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 70 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regularly and consistently
Soil: Rich soil with added fertilizer
Like spinach, cabbage comes in either a smooth leaf or crinkly leaf variety (usually called savoy cabbage). Colors range from many shades of green to even deep red or burgundy. Some will grow tight heads, and some will be more leafy. Choose a leafy variety like Jersey Wakefield if you need individual leaves for recipes like cabbage rolls. Either type will produce a large “mane” of loose leaves around the main head, which is what you harvest.
It’s a cool-weather vegetable, so you will be growing it in the spring and possibly also again in the fall.
Eaten raw or cooked, there is a very strong and distinctive taste to cabbage. You’ll get more than enough vitamin K and C with each serving, as well as fiber and manganese and several B vitamins.
If you don’t like the smell of cooking cabbage, you can try a number of home-remedies to help keep the odor down. One way to cut the sulphur smell is a few drops of vinegar in the cooking water.
Starting from Seed
To get an early start for a spring crop, start your cabbage plants inside about 4 weeks before your frost date. Keep your seedlings in a sunny spot that won’t get too hot. They will grow best at 60F (though a little warmer for germination).
Before they go in the garden, they will outgrow seedling trays so plan on moving them to larger pots, or just start your seeds in individual 3″ pots. Seeds should only be barely under the surface of the potting mix, maybe 1/8 of an inch deep.
You can put seedlings out around your last frost date. Cultivate your soil and add either compost or a complete fertilizer in when you are planting. A little bonemeal will be appreciated as well.
Since it will still be a bit cool when you put them out, you can ease the shock by “hardening” your seedlings before planting. Set your pots outside for 2 or 3 days before your planting date, but bring them back inside during the night to protect them from the cold.
Cabbage needs quite a bit of space, so don’t crowd your plants. Leave between 2 and 3 feet between the plants (depending on the size of your variety). If you have to plant them closer, they will still grow but the heads will be smaller. It may be a reasonable compromise if you have a small garden area to work with.
Because they are all closely related, you should not plant cabbage in the same place you have previously planted broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. Disease can accumulate in the soil, so rotate your crops. Leave at least 3 growing seasons between any plantings from this group.
You can put your seeds right into the garden for your spring crop, planting them at the same time as seedlings would go out with the same spacing. If your growing season will allow for it, you can also put in more seeds later for a fall harvest as well. These should be in the ground around 3 months before you are expecting your first winter frost. You can harvest the last cabbages after a few light frosts, they won’t be harmed.
Though cabbages need to be well-watered, you can risk splitting the head if you water too much. There is a fine line you need to walk with cabbage, because excessive growth will disrupt the plant and cause the head to split open. They will also split as they pass their maturity point, so try not to leave them in the garden too long.
You can grow cabbage in containers, usually 1 plant per 5+ gallon pot. Some varieties of cabbage will grow several feet across but that is mostly big leaves. The main stalk of the plant is reasonably sized for a large container. Large outer leaves may flop over the edges of the container and break off, so either provide a bit of support or trim off the leaves to prevent more damage.
Because containers can dry out quickly, you must be extra careful with your watering. Irregular watering can cause the heads to split, so don’t let the plant dry out and then soak it. Even watering 2 or 3 times a week is necessary.
Pests and Diseases
You will need to be on the lookout for a variety of insect pests if you want to grow cabbage. A particular threat are the cabbage worms and cabbage root maggots. The worms will eat the leaves and the maggots will eat the roots. Both can be kept away from your plants with a light covering of mesh fabric early in the season. The cover will still keep the maggots out of the roots by preventing the adult flies from laying eggs around the soil.
Cutworm are another caterpillar-like insect that can wreak havoc on your plants. The covers won’t help much but you can put little cardboard or foil collars around young plants to keep the worms from slicing right through the stalks.
When it comes to any insects, they can get in between the layers of leaves and stay out of sight. Keep a close eye on your plants, and treat them with a natural pesticide to help repel the bugs.
Under the surface, you may have to contend with club root. The plant’s roots can get infected with a fungus, causing them to swell and it eventually kill your cabbages. Adding lime to the soil can help prevent it, but once it attacks your plants there is nothing more to be done. Don’t plant any other cabbages or related plants in that spot for a couple of years, and continue to treat with lime each season.
Harvest and Storage
Unlike lettuce, you generally don’t harvest cabbage leaf-by-leaf. When the heads are large, firm and the plant has reached it’s maturity date, you can usually cut out the entire head to harvest. You don’t need the rough outer leaves, just the tighter inner head. Cut through the stalk at soil level.
Each plant produces one head of cabbage that can be anywhere from 2 to 6 pounds (though 2 lbs is more common). After harvest, you might get a second head to grow, depending on the plant and your climate.
Some varieties are ready to pick in just 2 months, and some will take more than 5. Pixie is a good early cabbage, and so is Derby Day.
You can store cabbage as a head in your refrigerator, and later-season varieties can also store well in a cool damp room (like a root cellar or even a garage).