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Cabbage
(Brassica oleracea capitata)


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Cultivars

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 is enough (or two if one must have both green and red cabbage).

We will repeat here what we now say about all Brassicas. For a long time, we made the mistake many amateur Brassica growers make, that of trying to race against summer with cool-weather crops. Even with fairly early plantings, if the crops don’t mature very quickly, the weather gets warm then hot, and your cabbage (or other Brassica) crop is largely or wholly shot.

The answer, especially in this era of continuous global warming, is easy: because all Brassicas are quite tolerant of rather cool to cold weather (some actually need some frosting to achieve peak flavor), one simply plants the seeds in mid to late summer and harvests in late fall or even early winter. If the plants don’t grow as fast as we might like, no harm done because they can withstand the cool/cold weather of late fall and early winter.

Although we prefer open-pollinated cultivars, that is less important with Brassicas, for which home gardeners shouldn’t try to save seed (owing to potential disease problems). After our rather extensive review of the cultivar literature, we ended up with one green cabbage and one red. The two we opted for are Stonehead (hybrid, 70 days), the green type, and Ruby Perfection (hybrid, 85 days) for the red. 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!”

Still, for those adamant about not using hybrids, two good choices would be Cour Di Bue (OP, 70 days) for green and Red Acre (OP, 75 days) for red.


Planting

Timing

A lot of sources insist that cabbage should be started indoors as seedlings. But they are talking about spring-planted cabbage, which, as we said above, seems a useless fight against nature. If we are summer-planting for late-autumn harvest, for us the seeds will go in the ground around late June (for the 100-day one) or early July (for the 80-day one), which is scarcely a time when one worries about poor l’il seedlings getting frosted down. So, obviously, we direct-sow.

For our climate, we should be seeding the red cabbage around June 23rd (or perhaps June 28th for the OP variety) and the faster-growing green around July 3rd. The nice thing about fall harvest is that we don’t need to be too exact about dates, because the plants can go pretty deep into autumn and early winter. With those planting dates and the nominal days to maturity, both types should be ready for harvest around the very end of September—but if they ignore the calendar by a bit, who cares? They’re not going to bolt. What a change from spring planting!

Sowing Seed

Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch deep. Like broccoli, thewy want about a 16" spacing in a deep-dug bed.

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.

(We are preparing to try an experiment with growing cabbages—in this case, Stonehead—indoors in containers on a staggered planting schedule so as to have fresh cabbage year round. We have a run of about 16' of well-windowed space, and will be trying for lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, and small Paris-type carrots. Wish us luck…)

Growing

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.

Also be sure to constantly monitor the plants for the pests to which Brassicas are saubject, aphids (evidenced by ants on them) and various caterpillar-like crawlers (which can be devastating). Pre-emptively use Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kustaki on all your Brassicas.


More

Relevant Links

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


Odds and Ends

Biology

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.


History

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”.)


Envoi

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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