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Cabbage is one of the few vegetables that you can grow and harvest from almost all year.
Learning how to grow cabbage opens up a wide variety of easy to grow cabbages that have an amazing taste you just can’t get from anything you find at the store.
Types Of Cabbage
Cabbages are available in 3 basic types smooth, savoy, and napa (Chinese cabbage). Within these, you will find many different varieties.
Smooth-headed cabbages are what you probably think of first when you hear the word cabbage.
Smooth cabbages are the most common type of cabbage found in grocery stores and local farmers markets.
They come in both green and red varieties ranging from 1 to 5 pounds (0.45-2.2 kg) on average. Although there are larger giant varieties you can grow for fun!
Smooth-headed cabbages are sweet tasting with a nice crunchy texture that store very well.
Savoy cabbages are beautiful cabbage plants with curly or crinkled leaves with deep ruffles along the edges.
You can easily grow these cabbages as edible ornamentals even mixed into your flower garden.
Savoy cabbages are also available in red and green varieties and are well worth trying.
Napa cabbages are a tasty and unique variety of cabbage. Although it doesn’t store well for a long period of time it’s amazing flavor makes it well worth growing in your garden!
Napa cabbages grow very similar to romaine lettuce in the garden, like an upright cone shape instead of forming a round ball.
We find these to be much sweeter than other types of cabbage and favorite for marketing homemade coleslaw.
How To Grow Cabbage
What cabbage you should grow will depend a lot on your growing zone.
If you have a short growing season picking an early maturing variety would be a good idea.
Also if you live in an area that gets very hot summers that could cause the cabbage to bolt then a short season variety planted in the early spring would help with this.
Early and mid-season varieties are good for fresh eating and short term storage.
The longer season varieties need more than 90 days to mature and are the best ones for long term storage.
Early Jersey Wakefield
Early Jersey Wakefield is an early 63-day heirloom cabbage that produces tight, conical shaped heads 5-7 inches (13-18 cm) in diameter. They are resistant to splitting in wet weather and have a wonderful flavor for making coleslaw.
If you’re looking for a very early cabbage this hybrid matures in only 45 days! It produces medium sized heads that are nice and tender, perfect for coleslaw, salads, and sauerkraut.
Danish Ballhead is a fantastic storage variety. This 120-day heirloom cabbage produces large 7-10 inch (8-25 cm) heads that are great for coleslaw, sauerkraut, and any other cabbage recipe you enjoy.
Red Acre is one of the earliest maturing red cabbage. This heirloom is ready in 75 days and produces tightly packed heads with a sweet flavor. Fully mature heads 6 to 7 inches (15-17 cm) in diameter.
Michihili is a variety of napa cabbage. This heirloom cabbage is ready in 70 days depending on the size you like to harvest it. They have good resistants to cold and will stand in the garden for long harvests when mature.
Savoy Perfection is a 95-day heirloom cabbage that produces large heads. When mature these drumhead cabbages can weigh up to 8 pounds (3.6 kg) each. With a mild, sweet flavor this cabbage is great for stir fry, stuffing.
Cabbage is a heavy feeder, this means it will grow best in soil that is rich in nitrogen.
The easiest way to provide lots of nitrogen to your plants is to add high-quality compost to your planting bed. This can be done in the fall so your garden is ready to plant early in the spring.
But don’t worry if you didn’t get to it last fall you can add compost to your garden in the spring too as long as your compost pile has thawed out before you’re ready to plant.
What’s The Best Time To Plant Cabbage?
Cabbages are very cold tolerant and are one of the first vegetables you can plant into your garden.
For a very early harvest start your cabbages indoors about 12 weeks before your last frost date in the spring. Just make sure to give them frost protection.
After 4 weeks of growth place a mini hoop tunnel over your planting bed to start warming up the soil.
Leave this alone for the next 2 weeks so the soil will be nice and warm for your seedlings. This also gives you time to start hardening off the cabbage plants.
Once they are 6 weeks old, transplant them into the prepared garden bed but keep the cover on.
If you are using a plastic cover make sure to vent it when the temperatures start to warm up to 40F (4 C) and on sunny days. The plastic can get very hot very quickly when the sun is shining.
For ease of use, I prefer to use fabric floating row covers because they keep the plants protected from the cold and wind but don’t get as hot as clear plastic.
If you don’t want to fuss with covering your cabbages then wait to start them by seed until 6 weeks before your last spring frost.
Then transplant them into the garden when they are 4-week old plants, about 2-3 weeks before your last spring frost.
By now they can normally take the temperatures just fine without extra protection.
How Far Apart To Plant Cabbage
Cabbages can grow to be large plants. For best results when planting cabbages into your garden space the seedlings 16 to 24 inches (40-60 cm) apart.
If you are growing an early maturing variety that produces smaller sized heads you can plant them as close as 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
How Deep To Plant Cabbage Seedlings
If your seedlings are nice compact plants then plant them at the same level in the ground that they have been growing at in their trays.
But if your seedlings are leggy or have crooked stems plant them deeply, right up to the first set of true leaves. This will help to protect the stem from wind damage and get the plants off to a better start.
Watering And Fertilizing Cabbage
Cabbages need a lot of water to grow well. You’ll want to provide at least 1 inch of water a week, more if you are growing in a drought or if the weather has been extra hot.
Uneven watering can cause small or cracked heads. As the plants get close to maturity, cut back on watering to help prevent the heads from splitting.
Mulching the soil will really help to keep it evenly moist and reduce how often you need to water your garden. Try placing a layer of straw, wood chips or shredded leaves around the plants.
You’ll want to start fertilizing your cabbage plants about 4 weeks after transplanting them into the garden.
Compost tea or fish emulsion works well for fertilizing young cabbage plants.
Harvesting And Storing Cabbage
Cabbage is ready to harvest when the heads are full and firm but still have a nice bright green color.
Use a sharp knife to cut the stem at the base of the cabbage head if you will be using the cabbage within a few days.
If you want to store the cabbages to eat through the winter then pull up the entire plant including the root. Then you have 2 options for storing them.
You can wrap the cabbage in newspaper and put them into a cool, damp area like a basement or root cellar. Another option is to replant the cabbages into buckets of sand and place them into your root cellar.
In good storage conditions, cabbages can last for several months.
If you are short on indoor storage space then you can also leave your cabbages in the garden all winter.
If you get heavy winters make sure to put down a thick layer of mulch around the cabbage plants and then cover them with a row cover. Harvest as needed throughout the winter.
Common Cabbage Pests And Problems
When cabbage plants get close to maturity they become prone to splitting. This is caused by taking up to much water and growing to fast.
To prevent cabbage heads from splitting wait until the heads have firmed up, about a week before you would normally harvest them. Then use a shovel to cut down into the soil close to the plant on one side.
This breaks the roots and slows down the plant’s ability to take up water.
Another way is to hold the cabbage plant and twist it a quarter turn to separate it from some of its roots.
If you have a constant problem with cabbage heads splitting even after doing this, try growing a variety that is resistant to splitting.
Slugs can be a big pest for cabbage plants but use these tips to control slugs naturally.
Cabbage worms are one of the most common cabbage pests for gardeners. Watch out for white moths flying around your cabbage plants as these are cabbage moths.
You can protect your cabbage plants by covering them with a fine-meshed bug screen or use BTK as a natural control.
Learn more about controlling cabbage worms.
Often confused with cabbage worms, cabbage loopers are another green caterpillar that looks more like an inch worm. Left untreated they can do a lot of damage to cabbage plants.
Learn how to get rid of cabbage loopers in your garden.
Cabbage Root Maggots
Cabbage root maggots are small white larva of the cabbage fly. It lays it’s eggs at the base of cole plants. After hatching they tunnel through the soil and eat the roots.
Cutworms will also eat cabbage plants. Their damage can be recognized when you see what was a healthy plant one day now with a stem that has been chewed through near the soil.
They go after young seedlings and can destroy many in one night.
Is Growing Cabbage Worth it?
Growing your own fresh cabbage is defiantly worth it! Cabbage is one of the easier vegetables to grow in your garden.
It’s perfect for beginners and can be used in many ways from raw to cooked.
Just remember that cabbage likes to grow in cool weather and needs constant moisture early in the growing season.
After growing your own cabbage you’ll never want to eat store-bought cabbage again!
Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.