Cabbages are a cool-weather crop that help get a spring vegetable garden off to a good start. Planted right after the last hard-frost date they can be direct-seeded, started indoors as seedlings, or grown in containers. Known as heavy feeders and drinkers, cabbages flourish in cool spring soil for June harvest. Sowing autumn types in May extends the cabbage season until frost. Large solid heads take more space than some crops but repay work with hefty, nourishing results. Growing even a few cabbages sets the neophyte vegetable grower on the path to long-term plans and projects.
Planning for Cabbage
Plot out space for cabbages when you organize your spring garden. Cabbage plants need from 60 to 80 days to mature (spring types) and 90-125 days (fall types). Space devoted to cabbage will be unavailable for other crops for a substantial period. One way to make room for cabbage is to explore new small varieties; another is to plan for single heads in large containers.
Direct-seed cabbage as soon as danger of hard frost is passed (in temperate zones, this can be as early as March 1st; St. Patrick's Day is a traditional day to seed cabbage in the Northeast US). Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, covering lightly; expect germination within 2 weeks. Water consistently during germination and thereafter. Cabbages take lots of water, and uneven watering can strongly affect growth. Thin seedlings when they have four to six true leaves, leaving each plant 18 to 24 inches of space for complete growth.
Start seedlings indoors in seed-start or potting soil mix, 4-6 weeks before planting. Keep soil consistently moist and use grow-lights to prevent legginess. Seedings are ready to transplant when they have several real leaves. Move gently because roots and stems are still very delicate at this stage.
Maximize scarce garden space by planting cabbages in containers. Large pots or planters (12-inch diameter or larger) can hold enough soil for cabbage. Begin with three to five seeds or three seedlings in each pot.
Follow the same approximate schedule to start fall-harvest cabbages. Avoid seeding or setting out on very hot days; consider using row covers during periods of intense heat, which deters heading-up and encourages bolting.
Consult your County Extension Office or other gardening sources to learn about, and prevent, pests that trouble cabbages in your area. The long period cabbages spend in the ground makes them more prone to problems than quick-growing vegetables. Collaring seedlings, staggered plantings, and row covers are among non-chemical deterrents to cabbage moths and root maggots, but you are wisest to search out problems specific to your area before you need help.