image by ellievanhoutte/flickr.com
Cabbage grows in four basic forms: the usual green smooth-leaved heads, red smooth-leaved heads, and green and red crinkled-leaved varieties known as savoys. Varieties have been cultivated for harvest in the late spring, mid-summer and fall. Cabbage likes cool weather and can withstand light frosts. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and calcium. It grows well in the home garden with a little care.
Choose a site for your cabbage that has full sun if possible. The soil should be rich and well drained. Prepare for planting cabbage by adding lots of organic compost to the soil. Avoid sites where cabbage or other cole crops such as broccoli or cauliflower have grown within the last three years. It is best to rotate cabbage to avoid soil-borne diseases such as clubroot.
Check the pH of your soil with a soil test kit or by taking a sample to your local nursery or agricultural extension for testing. Cabbage prefers a slightly acid soil of pH level 6.0 to 6.8. Add lime to raise the pH or acid-producing matter to lower it, if needed.
Plant cabbage seeds 1/2 inch deep directly in the ground, or in pots for later transplanting. For an early crop, start plants indoors about six weeks before transplanting into the garden. Plant the seeds or transplants about 18 to 24 inches apart in wide rows, approximately 3 feet apart.
Harden transplants before moving to the garden by setting them outdoors for two hours the first day and leaving them out an additional two hours per day until they can remain outdoors overnight.
Remove both ends from a tuna can or similar can. Place this can halfway into the soil around the plant when planting or transplanting. The can will serve as a collar for the plant and prevent damage from cutworms.
Water your cabbage consistently for even growth. If a head goes through a long dry period, it will grow rapidly when it encounters a rainy period and the head may split. Give the plants enough water to keep the soil barely moist through the day. Add organic mulch to keep the soil moist and help control weeds, but keep the mulch away from the stem of the plant.
Fertilize with 1/2 cup of high nitrogen fertilizer for every 10-foot row about a month after thinning the plants. Apply a side dressing of boron, calcium and magnesium. Place the fertilizer about 6 inches away from the plant and water it into the soil. Do not fertilize once the heads begin to form.
Prevent pests. Cover the rows with a row cover early in the growing season to prevent moths from laying eggs on the plant. Watch for cabbage worms or loopers and remove any that you find. Check for aphids on the underside of the leaves. Spray aphids with soapy water and wash the plant with a blast of water to remove them.
Control weeds by hoeing lightly or pulling weeds as they appear. Cabbage root systems are shallow, so aggressive hoeing or pulling established weeds may disturb the roots.
Harvest cabbage when the heads are large and firm. Cut the stem with a sharp knife at the base of the head, leaving a few wrapper leaves on the head for protection. Pull the plants up by the roots and compost them once the harvest is completed.