By Josie Borlongan, Garden Guides Contributor
About CabbageThe cabbage is a plant of the Family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae). Most cabbages are grown as annuals. Plants are generally 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) tall, with spread around 28 inches (70 cm); the average head is approximately 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter.
Cabbages are herbaceous and dicotyledonous flowering plant with clustered compact leaves. Cabbage leaves are eaten either cooked or raw as in salads. Cabbages grow best at 59 to 68 degrees F (15 to 20 degrees C). They should not be planted in temperatures over 77 degrees F (25 degrees C). Some of the hardiest cultivars can survive as low as 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C).
Site PreparationCabbages need fertile, moisture-retentive and organic soils with a pH level above 6. Spring, summer and fresh winter cabbages require very high nitrogen levels using fertilizer with 21 percent N content 4 oz. per square yard (110 g per square meter). Winter-storage cabbages require medium nitrogen using 21 percent N content 1 1/2 to 2 oz. per square yard (45 to 55 g per square meter). Spring cabbages should not be given a nitrogenous base-dressing at planting because the nitrogen will probably get washed from the soil over winter; top dressing during spring is advisable instead.
Special FeaturesCabbages are grouped according to their season of maturity; spring, early summer, summer, fall, winter (for storage) and winter (to use fresh). Leaves are dark or light green, blue-green, white or red and smooth or crinkled (savoy). Cabbage heads come in slightly different shapes, either round or pointed; they also vary in density. Spring cabbages are small, with pointed or round heads and have loose-leaf greens. Early summer cabbages are large with mainly round heads. Summer and fall cabbages are large and have round heads. Winter-storage cabbages are smooth, white-leaved, winter-white types. Winter cabbages, to use fresh, are blue, green and savoy leaf types.
Choosing a VarietyThe recommended cabbages are:
Spring; Earliana, Early marvel, Emerald Acre, Golden Cross, Greensleeves (greens only), Primax, Savoy Express and Stonehead.
Early Summer; Cheers, Dynam, Golden Acre, Gonzales, Primero, Pivoy and Tastie.
Summer; Blue Vantage, Cheers, Gourmet, Red Dynasty, Savoy Ace, Savoy Queen, Super Red and Taler (savoy).
Fall; Emblem, Grand Prize, Megaton, Primavoy (savoy) and Vantage Point.
Winter (for storage); Danish Ballhead, Hilton, Multikeeper, Ruby Perfection (red) and Sanibel.
Winter (to use fresh); Aquarius, Celtic, Ice queen (savoy), January King 327 and Julius (savoy).
PlantingSow the chosen cultivars at the correct time for their group. Spring cabbages are sown at the end of summer; average spacing of 12 inches (30 cm). Early summer cabbages are sown in very early spring (sow under cover); average spacing of 14 inches (35 cm). Summer cabbages are sown in early spring; average spacing of 14 inches (35 cm). Fall cabbages are sown in late spring; average spacing of 20 inches (50 cm). Winter cabbages (for storage) are sown in spring; average spacing of 20 inches (50 cm). Winter cabbages (for use) are sown in late spring; average spacing of 20 inches (50 cm).
Sow seeds in seedbeds or cell packs and transplant seedlings to their final position on average five weeks later following the approximate average spacing mentioned above. A collar may be placed around each seedling to protect against cutworms. Apply mulch to keep moisture in soil.
CareEnsure that young seedlings have sufficient moisture until they are well established. Use cloches or floating row covers to protect spring cabbages. Apply liquid fertilizer or nitrogenous top-dressing in spring. Keep moisture in soil by watering regularly and applying mulch.
Watch out for pests and diseases. Flea beetles, slugs and snails, damping off, cabbage root maggots, whiptail and cutworms all affect young plants. Caterpillars, whiteflies, mealy aphids and clubroot attack plants at all stages of growth. Southern blight may also occur.
Harvesting and StorageNormally the plant is dug up once the head has been cut, but spring and summer cabbages may still produce a second head or crop. This happens if the head is cut to leave a 4 inch (10 cm) stalk in the ground. To produce a second crop of greens, make a cross-shaped cut in the stalk after harvesting the head using a sharp knife. A few weeks later, provided the soil is kept moist and fertile, it will yield several miniature heads ready for the second harvest.
Before storing cabbages, carefully remove any loose or discolored outer leaves, taking care not to damage the head. While in storage, make sure to inspect the cabbages regularly. Remove leaves that are rotting so as not to affect the rest of the crop. Place cabbages on slatted supports or straw on the floor of a shed. Cabbages can also be suspended in nets.
Store the heads at just above freezing point, with relatively high humidity. During warmer days, ensure that the storage area is well ventilated to prevent rotting. Cabbages can be stored for four or five months.