Cabbage is a must have in the garden. It is one of those vegetables that can be grown no matter where you live. In warmer climates you can grow cabbage in the winter, and in cold climate it can be grown in the summer. If you want to grow food, then grow cabbage.
Cabbage is a favourite in the garden in so many parts of the world. No wonder there are so many varieties in colour, shape, hardiness, and taste. Green (or white) cabbage varieties come in different sizes and shapes, red cabbage is higher in vitamins A and C, savoy cabbage with crinkled outer leaves, pointed cabbage with conical heads, and Chinese cabbage. By choosing your favourite, note how much time you have to grow it. We choose early summer varieties. Our winters are too cold for growing cabbage.
Starting cabbage seeds
Cabbage is a winter crop. Heat is not in its favor. Winter sowing is great for cabbage, however I find in our Zone 3 the seeds germinate too late. A combination works better for a cold climate. Let the seeds germinate indoors and as soon as the plant is up, and the weather permits, bring the container outdoors. Cabbage is very hardy, a bit of frost will not damage the seedlings as much as heat would.
A greenhouse is also a great place to start cabbage from seeds. It gives the plants sufficient natural light, so they do not get leggy. You want to avoid a leggy cabbage seedling, since the stem will have to carry a big head.
Cabbage can be planted very early in spring, at least a month before the last frost day. For winter growing, plant cabbage in late summer. Read more about growing cabbage in warmer area here. Give the plants as much space as needed. Do not plant too closely together. I find one in every square foot (the square foot garden way) is too close for most cabbages. One and a half feet apart is better. Cabbage also looks great in the flower garden. Plus, flowers help to distract butterflies.
Great companion plants for cabbage are dill, beets, onion, and celery. Crop rotation is important for cabbage. Rotate with non brassica plants for at least two years.
Grow a healthy cabbage
Healthy soil equals healthy plants, that is true also for cabbage. A healthy plant will also be more resistant to the many critters that just love cabbage.
Young seedlings are in danger of cutworms. You can protect the plant by enclosing it with some kind of stiff collar around the plant about an inch deep. It can be as simple as a toilet pepper roll.
Caterpillars love cabbage too. I find planting early is the best prevention. If the head has not formed till end of July, there will be too many caterpillars to allow a good cabbage to form. Caterpillars can destroy a cabbage plant completely, still …
… we do not recommend using pesticides at all. Even organic pesticides can be very damaging to bees and other beneficial insects. Read more at: Toxicity of common organic approved pesticides to bees.
Instead use a protection net. It can be a special insect netting , or any netting even from your local dollar store. Important is the size of the holes in the netting. Finer mesh will protect from more insects. Plants can be covered individually or a whole bed can be covered with protection netting (see picture).
Cabbage is ready when the head has become firm. If the cabbage is almost ready, and a heavy rain is in the forecast, it is better to harvest cabbage before the rain so the heads do not split. Also when you see caterpillars on the cabbage, its time to harvest. You might get a smaller head, but leaving it in the ground would result in loosing the whole harvest.
Cabbage stores well in the fridge or cold storage. Take the outer leaves off, making sure there aren’t any hidden insects, then wrap the head in paper towel and put it into a plastic bag. The GreenBags Storage Bags are great. Cabbage can be stored this way for weeks in cold storage.
My mom used to store cabbage in the garden. I have not tried this myself, since it is too cold here in Zone 3; growing up we lived in Zone 6, I think. She would dig a hole in the ground and place the cabbage in it upside down and cover it with dirt. Whenever she needed a cabbage, she would just dig it up and have a fresh head of cabbage. She says that it is best done at the weather turning point. Just before it gets cold and wet.
Cabbage can also be frozen. Separate whole leaves or slice them the size you want, blanch for a minute or two, depending on the thickness and size and freeze in portions you want to use. We have also had great results freezing our favorite ready made Apfelrotkohl, reheated it taste just like fresh.
And do not forget fermenting cabbage. The ultimate cabbage storage is sauerkraut. Fermented, raw sauerkraut can last for many months, always fresh and ready to be used.
Cabbage is super yummy and very healthy as well. Read more about the health benefits of Cruciferous vegetables here. Fermented, raw, or cooked, cabbage is always a winner. Here are some of our favorite recipes as well as from our homesteading friends (you might want to grow more cabbage!).
– Homemade Sauerkraut the Simple Way (with carrots or apples)
– Super Easy Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
– How to Make Probiotic-Rich Sauerkraut
– Naturally Fermented Sauerkraut and Pickles
– Kraut Three Ways
– Old Fashioned Sauerkraut
– Curtido ~ Latin American Sauerkraut
– How to Make Kimchi
Side and Main Dish
What is your favorite way to enjoy cabbage?