Cabbage isn't the best looking vegetable in the garden, but it may be one of the most versatile. There are many varieties of cabbage adapted to growing across the country. Plus, they can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, stir-fried or even used to make wraps.
Cabbage varieties come in colors from bright red to subtle blue-green. There are perishable Oriental varieties, which are essential for many ethnic dishes, as well as hardy storage varieties great for making kraut.
So give cabbage a try this year in your garden. A few plants may be all you need to get hooked on growing and eating fresh cabbage.
Types of Cabbage
Before you plant a seed, consider what type of cabbage might be most appealing to you.
Pointed-head varieties, such as 'Early Jersey Wakefield', are grown for their interesting shape, succulent leaves, and early harvest. 'Early Jersey Wakefield' is ready for harvest within 60 days from transplanting. It makes a great fall cabbage since it will mature quickly before the cold weather hits.
Flat-headed varieties, such as 'Late Flat Dutch' and 'Gourmet', produce large-sized heads that store well. Flat-headed cabbages are great for stuffing.
Round-headed varieties are by far the most popular. They are used raw in salads and cooked in soups, sautes, and casseroles. Some, such as 'Copenhagen Market', last for months in storage. Some, such as 'Red Acre', 'Golden Acre', and 'Blue Pak', feature interesting-colored leaves. Most varieties also have good disease resistance.
Chinese cabbages are actually cousins of regular cabbages. Varieties come in two shapes: upright shapes, such as 'Michihili', and round, barrel shapes, such as 'Napa'. Their mild flavor makes them tasty in salads and stir-fries.
Like many cole crops, cabbages are easy to grow and like to mature during cool weather. If they're maturing in hot weather, the heads may not form properly or will split. For best results plant in early spring or fall, depending on the variety and your location. Start seeds indoors four to six weeks before your last expected frost date in spring. Then start more seeds in midsummer to plant in early fall for an early winter harvest. Space early-maturing cabbage varieties 12 to 15 inches apart in beds or single rows; later-maturing types, 18 to 24 inches apart.
Cabbages need good soil fertility to produce the best quality heads. Amend the soil before planting with compost. About a month after transplanting, side-dress with 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 25-foot row. Side-dress Chinese cabbages with 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 per 15-foot row when plants are 4 to 6 inches tall.
Water the heads deeply and infrequently. Apply a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of organic mulch, such as straw, after transplanting to retain soil moisture. Consistent soil moisture helps avoid head splitting. Cabbage heads split if they're fertilized late or if the soil moisture levels fluctuate.
Aphids, flea beetles, and cabbageworms are probably the biggest pests of cabbages. Early in the season, spray insecticidal soap to control aphids, and pyrethrum to control flea beetles. Once you see the first signs of cabbageworm activity (dark green droppings in leaf crotches and holes in the leaves), spray your plants with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Harvest when the heads are about softball size and firm when squeezed. If you have a number of cabbage heads maturing at once, you can stagger the harvest. To hold the heads in your garden until you're ready to harvest, simply sever the roots of individual cabbages. Drive a sharp spade into the ground on one side of the plant to stop the plant from taking up too much water. After you cut the original heads, side heads may form, giving you a second, smaller cabbage crop!
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Cutworms Attacking Tomato Plants
Q. What can I do to eliminate the cutworms attacking my tomato plants?
A. Cutworms lie in wait for your tender tomato transplants each spring. They emerge from the soil at night to chop down the newly planted seedlings at the soil line.
A simple way to block cutworm damage is to create a barrier around each individual plant. Tear a strip of newspaper about 2 inches wide and a foot long. Wrap it around the stem of the tomato transplant, placing the bottom end just below the soil surface. This will prevent cutworms from cutting off your tender plants. By the time the paper degrades, the stems will be larger and stronger, and not subject to cutworm attack.