A freshly cut cabbage from your own garden, scrunched raw in coleslaw, steamed or stir-fried can transform years of culinary mis-treatment that this robust vegetable has suffered for ever. Cousin to broccoli, cauliflower and kale, cabbages are reliable growers and can reward a few moments’ time and energy with a rich rosette or dense head of lush leaves without too much fuss.
Cabbage consumption is associated with reductions in colon cancer, increased immunity and anti-bacterial properties. It is a useful source of vitamin C and beta-carotene both important immune boosters. Raw cabbage is said to be high in folic acid which is vital for healthy production and maintenance of new cells.
My three boys became interested in growing cabbages when I told them they could plant a vegetable that would grow as big as a football – once it is ready, the trick is to cut it before they can kick it!
Companions Mint, sage, rosemary,thyme, onion, garlic, peas, celery, potato, broad bean, beetroot.
Quantity 1 plant per person
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Scarlet O’Hara red varieties are supposed to be highest in anti-oxidants and can be cooked to keep colour when a little vinegar is added to cooking water. Smaller than other varieties can be grown year round country-wide
Copenhagen Market heirloom green variety good for smaller gardens. Grow through summer.
Vertus Savoy heirloom Savoy variety for superior coleslaw and scrunchy stir-fries. Prefers cooler temperatures.
Cabbages are fairly hardy vegetables and can be grown all year-round depending on variety and location
Cabbages need a place where they can grow un-molested for a couple of months. Best if they get direct sunshine so they don’t grow on an angle and end up lean and lanky rather than squat and chunky.
Cabbages are a little bit greedy and, like other brassicas such as broccoli, and kale, they grow best in rich, well-composted soil that does not hold onto moisture for more than say half a day. Ideally, they should be planted where peas or beans have previously grown so that they can take advantage of all the nitrogen that has been ‘fixed’ into the soil. Soil should be fairly firm so pat down with a rake after digging. This helps them establish strong roots to support that big head.
I generally buy seedling plants but you can sow seeds into trays or punnets and plant out your own seedlings after about 5 weeks.
Seedlings should be planted out when they have six or so leaves and look like they are well-rooted and stable in their punnets. To test this, they should stand rather then flop over when you brush the back of your hand against them. Allow about a forearm by a forearm’s space on the surface of your bed for each seedling (check seed packets or seedling labels as spacing does differ between varieties). Use two fingers or a trowel to make a small hole that is deep enough for the soil to bury the stem to the point where the bottom set of leaves are attached to it. Gently firm the soil around each of your seedlings to ensure good contact with roots.
I use a hoe to gently keep those early spring weeds down – be careful not to go too deep or too close to your cabbage plants or you might damage roots. In dry weather it is important to see that your plants get at least a quarter of a watering can every two days. Once the heads start to form you can get out your liquid feeds – something with a good dose of nitrogen in it like liquid seaweed or worm juice is good. Give your plants a watering can of diluted feed every two weeks to boost growth.
Keep your seedlings well mulched and weed-free as they grow and develop. As with other brassicas make sure you keep firming the soil at the base of your plants.
Cut your cabbages just below the head but don’t pull the stems up straight away. If you make a cross cut on the upward-facing cut face of the stem you may find mini-cabbages form over the next few weeks.
Whenever you harvest is generally a good time to think about planting more.
Cabbage white butterflies are the number 1 pest. You can protect your brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cavolo nero) with fine mesh to stop the butterflies laying their eggs on the lush leaves (it’s the caterpillars that do all the damage) or you can arm your kids with badminton rackets and unleash them for a on spot of mobile target practice. Remove any visible caterpillars by hand and feed to garden birds or chickens. Caterpillars can also be deterred by treating leaves with Chilli spray or giving them a dusting with household flour.
Cabbage is also susceptible to attacks from aphids. Treat any visible infestations with Neem oil, Garlic oil spray or Tomato leaf spray.