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(Brassica oleracea capitata)

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Cabbage plants

There are many, many varieties of cabbage--mainly because of the historical need to have crop coming in as a regular flow rather than more or less all at once. Since we use cabbage mainly for borscht or freezing for other cooking uses, one variety of each kind (green and red) is enough. Our summmer heat, combined with our late spring frosts, mandates--as for almost everything we grow--an early type.

For green, we have grown with success the classic Early Jersey Wakefield, a reliable, productive, early (duh), and tasty heirloom. But there are some other good open-pollinated early cabbages, too: an obvious cousin of the Jersey, the Charleston Wakefield, and Golden Acre; Charleston is a litle later than Early Jersey, perhaps a week or two, but is said to be much larger yet of equally good quality, especially good for boiling, less so perhaps for raw use (as in slaw); also, the Wakefields typically produce conical ("pointy") heads, which we suppose is neither here nor there, but possibly of interest. Golden Acre is the green counterpart of Red Acre (see below), but earlier (circa 61 days) and compact but forming slightly heavier heads than Wakefield; it is an excellent cabbage for slaw and other raw or semi-raw uses, a tad less so for boiling up--and is our pick (and it can be spaced relatively closely owing to its compact habit). (The early type Greyhound is also said to be excellent, but while common in the U.K. does not seem to be available in North America.)

For OP red cabbages, about the earliest decent type is Red Express (63 days), significantly earlier than Red Acre at 75 days, and is thus our pick (even though the heads are, as is to be expected, somewhat small, 2 to 4 pounds--but it, too, can be planted closer than most). Red cabbages are commonly thought to be less liable to cracking and splitting than green types, for what that may be worth. In any event, hot red cabbage salad is, as a friend of ours would put it, "pretty good stuff, mon!"



This is a crop that's much better started indoors as seedlings for later transplanting to their outdoors home.

Timing is important, because cabbages much dislike heat--there's a reason Alaska is such a great producer of cabbages. Out here, one needs to grow either an early variety for late-spring or early-summer harvest, or a "winter" type for late-fall harvest--that's why we go with tried and true early types.

Timing is also tricky. We want our cabbage in the ground as early as practicable, so we can get them out as early as we can: cabbage growth slows above 68 degrees, and stops, possibly with damage, at 85 degrees. And while cole plants do not develop at temperatures below freezing, they can tolerate temperatures down to "killing freeze" levels--the low 20s or so. If we take the cabbage growing span to be roughly 60 days, we would ideally want them out by the end of April (when our daily high temperatures are in the mid-60s), which signifies that we would need to get them in the ground around March 1st. But that's risky for hard freezes: even cabbage can be killed off by 10° or 15° temperatures, and overnight lows in the single digits are not unheard of around here for March 1st.

Looking at the temperature tables, the dramatic killer low temperatures probability seems to ease toward mid-March, and to not change much after that till mid-May. We should, therefore, probably target our planting-out for mid-March, looking to a harvest in mid-May. That is not ideal at either end, but it looks like the best we can do. And, as we want our seedling to have a good 6 weeks indoors in pot before we transplant, that means starting seed around February 1st.

Starting Seedlings

Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch deep. The optimum germination soil temperature is a high 95°, so keep those seedling trays warm (ideally with a heat mat or the like); but, as with broccoli and the other coles, once the seeds germinate, try to keep the air temperature around them moderate, circa 60° or so.

The Bed

Cabbages, like most or all brassicas, are fairly indifferent to soil type and pH, but do want well-drained soil; some sources say they prefer a slightly alkaline soil, a hair over 7.0. They are also said to prefer a "heavy" soil, so--within reasonable bounds--clay is not a problem. And while it is reputedly not fussy about needing direct sun, direct sun is how they grow best. They are heavy feeders, and want well-fertilized soil.

If you want to container-grow cabbages, the small early kinds we discuss here probably want about a 1- or 2-gallon container each ("gallons" is now a dated but common measure for plant containers: here, it's roughly an 8- or 10-inch pot).

Transplanting Out

Optimum plant spacing in a deep-dug or raised bed is about the same 15 inches as for broccoli.


Again like most brassicas, cabbage prefers moist soil and doesn't mind--even likes--wet leaves, so water regularly and generously (just don't get the soil actually sodden or waterlogged). It is quite important that their water supply be regular: cabbages experiencing dry then wet can readily crack. And container-grown plants tend to dry out quicker than in-ground plants, so eye them carefully.

Early types mature fast, and hence are prone to bursting, so harvest them promptly.


Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful:

Odds and Ends


Cabbages are members of the Cruciferae family, Brassica genus. All crucifers are highly vulnerable to clubroot disease; the only reliable way to avoid it is crop rotation, with a minimum four-year pattern recommended.

Saving seed from crucifers is inadvisable for the nonexpert: even the experts have problems, both with cross-breeding--crucifers very readily cross--and with disease.

Of the many other food crops closely related, a few are kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, watercress, and mustard.


The old, original Brassica oleracea ancestor is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, and is somewhat similar in appearance to a leafy canola plant. Sometime soon after the first domestication of plants, that ancestral "cabbage" was being grown as a leafy vegetable around the Mediterranean. Because the leaves were the part of the plant consumed, those plants with the largest leaves were selectively propagated for next year's crop.

By the 5th century B.C., that continued preference for ever-larger leaves led to the vegetable we now know as kale (known botanically as Brassica oleracea acephala, "headless cabbage"); kale is, of course, still grown today. But eventually some developed a taste for those plants with a tight cluster of tender young leaves in the center of the plant, at the top of the stem, and that type, too, came to be selected for; over the centuries, that selecting led to what we think of as cabbages, which were probably a distinct type by as early as the 1st century A.D. (That's why cabbage is Brassica oleracea capitata, "headed cabbage".)


If you have ever envied the simple, easy life of vegetables, you can visit The Page That Turns You into a Cabbage! (their title, not ours).

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