Cabbage is a cool weather vegetable that can be grown for beautiful, edible heads. With its impressive nutrient content and culinary versatility, homegrown cabbage is a great addition to any vegetable garden. Follow this guide to successfully plant, grow, and harvest cabbage.
Cabbage can be grown as both a spring and fall crop. Choose disease resistant cabbage varieties suited to your climate. Some top choices include Early Jersey Wakefield, Golden Acre, and Copenhagen Market.
Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected spring frost. Use a soilless seed starting mix and sow seeds 1⁄4 inch deep. Keep seedlings around 70°F.
Transplant cabbage seedlings outside after hardening off for 7-10 days once all danger of frost has passed. Space cabbage plants 18-24 inches apart in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
Cabbage needs at least 6 hours of full sun daily. Maintain soil pH between 6.0-6.8. Prior to transplanting, mix 1-2 inches of compost into soil and side dress with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Growing Conditions for Cabbage
Cabbage grows best in cool conditions with consistent moisture. Here are key conditions to provide:
- Soil – Rich loamy soil amended with compost. Well-draining and nutrient dense.
- Sun – At least 6 hours of direct sun per day. More sun = larger heads.
- Water – 1-2 inches per week. Avoid wetting leaves. Use mulch to retain soil moisture.
- Temperature – Thrives in cool weather. Ideal temps are 60-70°F during growth and 50-60°F for maturation.
- pH – Maintain soil pH between 6.0-6.8 for optimal nutrient availability.
Monitor soil moisture regularly and water when top few inches become dry. Apply mulch around plants to conserve moisture and reduce weeds.
Caring for Cabbage Plants
Cabbage requires diligent care to produce healthy heads:
- Weed weekly to prevent competition for nutrients. Cultivate shallowly to protect shallow cabbage roots.
- Fertilize every 3-4 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Side dress with compost or manure.
- Check for common cabbage pests like cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. Hand pick off plants. Use floating row covers.
- Scout for diseases like clubroot, black rot and downy mildew. Avoid overhead watering and improve air circulation.
- When heads start forming, loosely tie outer leaves together to promote compact growth.
- Protect plants with floating row covers to keep pests at bay. Remove during pollination.
- Turn or support cabbage heads when mature to prevent splitting.
Proper spacing, crop rotation, and persistent pest management are key to prevent disease issues. Control weeds, insects, and diseases immediately to maintain healthy plants.
When harvesting cabbage, timing is everything. Follow these guidelines:
- For fresh eating, harvest when heads feel hard and heavy. Cut heads when they reach desired size.
- For winter storage, allow heads to mature fully. Harvest when outer leaves curl under.
- Cut heads off with a sharp knife, keeping 2-3 outer leaves attached.
- Harvest in the morning after dew dries for maximum crispness and flavor.
- Check heads frequently as they mature. Harvest promptly when ready to prevent splitting.
- Leave roots intact and harvest the entire plant if prolonging harvest into winter.
- Store unwashed heads in a cold cellar or refrigerator for 3-6 months. Ideal storage temperature is 32°F with high humidity.
Staggered plantings every 2-3 weeks extends the cabbage harvest. Plant both early and late maturing varieties.
Common Cabbage Growing Problems
Growing cabbage does come with some challenges. Here are some potential issues:
- Poor germination from old cabbage seed or improper planting depth. Always use fresh seed.
- Stunted growth due to inadequate soil moisture or nutrient deficiencies. Maintain even soil moisture and test soil.
- Cabbage worm damage. Handpick off plants and use floating row covers.
- Black rot, clubroot, and downy mildew. Practice crop rotation and avoid wetting leaves.
- Cabbage root maggots. Cover plants with row cover until heads form to exclude egg-laying flies.
- Split heads due to uneven moisture, overmaturity, or poor root development. Maintain steady moisture.
- Tipburn, caused by inconsistent watering. Keep soil evenly moist, especially during head formation.
Pay close attention to growing conditions and cabbage pests. Taking a proactive approach is key to avoid issues.
Growing your own cabbage is immensely rewarding. Nothing beats slicing into a fresh, homegrown cabbage head for slaws, rolls, stir fries, and more! With proper care, your fall or spring cabbage crop can provide beauty and bounty.