Cabbages are a fantastic cool season crop for any veggie patch. In winter I enjoy eating them in soups or simply steamed and served hot with butter, sea salt and a dash of nutmeg. I have always enjoyed the sound made when slicing through a solid cabbage as I am preparing it for the pot. Autumn is well under way in my patch and that means somewhere I will have a couple of cabbages growing. In fact, I have around ten of them in various stages and I can’t wait to pick them in the coming months.
Cabbages are part of the group of vegetables known as Brassicas. They are closely related to Broccoli, Cauliflowers, Kale and Brussel Sprouts and they have been part of veggie growing culture for centuries. I reckon that they are a rewarding crop to grow and they come in a range of sizes and shapes and even have a couple of colours to add interest. Some varieties can get to grow as big as a basketball, some are round, some are shaped like a cone, while others only grow to the size of your fist. I tend to plant the smaller sized varieties over an extended period which ensures I spread the harvest.
Growing Conditions: They do best in full sun in a rich, well drained soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Prepare your garden bed by adding plenty of compost and do as I did this year and add a bag of chicken manure. I also add a couple of handfuls of lime to get the pH right. Dig the lot in thoroughly and rake the bed level. To control weeds spread a layer of sugar cane mulch over the soil. What I am after when I grow cabbages is lots of lush leaves and hopefully a solid heart (like mine!). So fertilize every two weeks with a liquid organic fertilizer to keep them growing vigorously.
Seeds or Seedlings: If growing from seeds, sow 5-10 mm deep in a seedling tray in a quality seed raising mix and transplant them into the garden four to six weeks after sowing. If you don’t have time to sow seeds, buy a punnet of seedlings from your local garden centre instead. Be careful to select a punnet that is growing well and does not appear to be stressed from a lack of water or food. If you buy them stressed, your final size will be affected. They transplant reasonably easily, but ensure that you water them in well immediately after planting, using a weak liquid fertilizer brew. Protect the young plants from the direct sun for a couple of days until they start to grow.
Spacing of Plants: For most of the varieties, space the plants 40 cm apart with 70 cm spacings between rows. The larger varieties do take considerable space, but if you have space issues, try the mini cabbages. For the mini varieties I have successfully grown them in the past 25 cm apart with 25 cm spacing between the rows.
Harvesting: They take anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks to mature and if you are in a cooler climate, add a couple of weeks. You will know it’s time to harvest when the heads feel firm and solid. With a sharp knife slice the stem just below the head, leaving behind the stem and outer leaves. If you are feeling adventurous and can afford the space, leave the stem and outer leaves in the soil and soon new shoots will appear. You can pick these small plants off when you feel the urge and have them for dinner.
Pests: Slugs and snails can be a problem. You can use beer traps, coffee grinds, snail pellets or even the ‘seek and stomp’ method of control – my favourite by the way. It is advisable to guard seedlings from butterflies and moths because they lay eggs and the caterpillars can devour a young plant very quickly. I am growing the crop under insect mesh for the first time this year so I don’t have to worry about them. If the outer leaves of the cabbage get damaged at any stage, don’t worry, when you harvest just peel them off and undamaged leaves will be underneath.
Varieties: It’s possible to harvest cabbages nearly all year round, if you plan it well and select the right varieties. The varieties I use are:
Ruby Ball: A deep red variety that is a vigorous grower and I plant these in late summer and autumn. Takes 10-12 weeks to mature and is a medium size. A bit nutty in taste and is a favourite for coleslaw because of its colour.
Sugarloaf: Plant to grow from early spring right through to autumn. Takes 12-14 weeks to reach maturity and is shaped like a cone. Rather sweet in flavour.
Golden Acre: Plant in late summer and into autumn. A round variety and it’s ready in 12-16 weeks.
Mini: Plant all year round and you’ll get small cabbages that will mature in 10 weeks. Great for small spaces and would work in pots.
There are lots of varieties and I will try more in future seasons. So if you have had success with any particular type. Why don’t you share your experience with everyone.