Cabbage is an easy crop to grow in a home garden. It is a cold weather crop and does best in temperatures from 60 to 70 degrees F. Cabbage can usually be planted early in the spring for harvest in early summer, and another crop can be planted around mid-July for a September harvest.
Cabbage has large leaves, some smooth while other varieties are ruffled. Most types of cabbage are green, but a few varieties are red to purple. Heads of leaves form in the center of the plant and are used for cooking. Cabbage plants take up a great deal of space in the garden. Just one plant can grow up to 25 inches in diameter. The heads are round, pointed or flattened.
Cabbage takes about 60 to 80 days to mature. Gardeners in cold climates should choose cabbage that takes no more than 75 days to mature to get an early harvest before the weather gets too hot. Heads will not form well when the temperature gets above 70 degrees F.
Harden off transplants before placing them in the garden. Doing so gets them acclimated to the outdoor climate so they will not be shocked. Once the outside temperature gets near 60 degrees F, move transplants in their pots to a shady area and let them sit all day. Take them in for the evening. Do this for four days. Next, put them in full sun in the morning and take them back in at night for two to four more days. Finally, leave them out all night—but if a frost is expected, take them in or cover them. Once this is done, it is safe to plant them in the garden.
When to Plant
Plant transplants in early spring. Cabbage tolerates a light frost but if a killing frost is expected, the plants should be covered. Plant as soon as the daytime temperatures get near 60 degrees F. The plants need to be planted early enough to mature before the temperatures reach 80 degrees F. Plant seeds mid-July for a fall crop. The seeds will grow in the heat, but heads will form when the temperatures drop in September.
Cabbage roots are shallow and are easily pulled up when weeding the area. It is best to put down mulch so that weeds cannot grow. Cabbage also is a heavy feeder and drinker. Fertilize with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer right after planting. When the plants are halfway to their maturing point, use a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Sprinkle dry fertilizer near the roots or use a water-soluble fertilizer. Cabbage needs frequent watering during dry periods to produce heads.
Disease and Pests
Blackleg causes black cankers that form on the stem and roots of the plant. Black veins in the leaves with yellow or brown V-shaped sections on leaves is an indication of black rot. White to brown moths lay eggs that become cabbage worm and these worms will devour a cabbage patch in no time. Purchase control products for all these problems at the local garden center and follow the directions.
Feel the head of the cabbage. If it feels mushy or has a great deal of give, leave it for a few more days until it feels firm. Do not let cabbage go too long or the head will crack and split open. Rain cause a head to burst when it gets too ripe—and the split head must be used quickly because it will rot faster. Cut heads with a sharp knife at the base of the plant. Pull the rest of the plant out and discard.