Do you think cabbage is a boring vegetable? Think about that again. You can grow two crops of this healthful veggie, and enjoy several types of green, and the jewel-toned red cabbage year around. With the revived interest in fermented foods, you will want to consider adding cabbage, as well as other brassicas, to your garden beds.
Nutritious and delicious – either raw or cooked – red and green cabbages are extremely productive cooler season crops. In areas like ours in the Rogue Valley, we are well advised to grow the faster maturing varieties for a mid- to late-spring harvest and again in the fall. Fall cabbages are just the best, when they’ve had an exposure to a light frost. It just makes them sweeter!
The genus “brassica” covers a whole bunch of veggies, and cabbage – of course – is one of them. Other members of this family are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi. They are some of the most popular and traditional garden vegetables grown. They can be grown in just about every climate zone in North America.
Cabbages require nitrogen-rich soil that is firm, especially for closed-headed varieties. If you’re new to growing cabbages, or any kind of brassica, you will want include a generous amount of rotten manure with each transplanting and side dress or spot-water with compost tea midway through the year.
There are quite a few varieties of cabbage commonly grown in Southern Oregon. The most common and popular are: Jersey Wakefield, Pacifica, Lennox, Savoy Ace, and Huron. With broccoli and cauliflower varieties, the choices are also varied. The most common are: Baccus, Goliath, and Liberty for broccoli. Alert, Amazing, Cheddar, Self-Blanche, and Violet Queen ate the top picks for cauliflowers.
The best planting times will depend on your climate zone as well as whether you are planting outdoors from seed or transplants. As you may know, the Rogue Valley has quite a few microclimates or micro zones. Be mindful of this as you set your calendar for planting seeds or seedlings. The variety may also play a role, though most cabbages have roughly the same tolerances and needs for germination.
Most gardeners looking to get two crops out of the year will start seeds indoors before the season begins and transplant seedlings to the garden row just before the last frost comes. Since cabbages are frost-tolerant, they can withstand light frosts even at this young age. After harvest just after mid-year, a new set of seedlings or seeds can be started in the same rows for another planting. This one will usually be harvested just before or after the first killing frost.
Keeping the bed weed-free and not disturbing the roots of the cabbage are probably the most important consideration when caring for the young cabbages. Watering should be at about one inch per week, a little more in dryer climates and less in more humid areas. Soaking should go relatively deep – about half a foot. Most cabbage growers use the flood method of watering rather than overhead sprays because of this requirement. Also, avoiding overhead watering means you should be able to avoid mildew and a host of other difficulties, not just with cabbages, but with most of your garden veggies. Just don’t do it.
Cauliflowers need blanching (which is why the self-blanching varieties are more popular now). This means that they need be covered when the heads become visible. Otherwise, they will mature too quickly and turn a greenish yellow, losing flavor as they bolt. Traditionally, this is done by tying the outer broad leaves over the head of the plant. Self-blanching varieties usually grow to cover themselves. Brown paper bags or other breathable covers (muslin is popular) can also be used. The object is to block the light. Check this out for some further tips and tricks.
Brussels sprouts should have their tips cut towards the end of the season when the sprouts begin to appear in earnest. This clipping encourages sprout growth and discourages more plant growth, maximizing the amount of sprouts you will ultimately harvest. Read more about growing Brussels sprouts here.
Harvest times depend on the time of year, of course, and to some degree, the weather. When ripe, harvest in mid-summer should be immediate to allow for another planting. In the fall, most cabbages can be left in the ground until after Thanksgiving, harvested when eaten at that point.
Cauliflower is an exception to this rule. Heads can be snapped off (usually by twisting) or cut with a gardener’s knife. Brussels sprouts can be trimmed off the plant with shears or heavy scissors.
The main pest to cabbages is the cabbage caterpillar (aka cabbage worm or looper). This pest is the larvae of the cabbage white butterfly, a beautiful flier whose appearance may be worth a little crop loss to some gardeners. Not me, personally, but some gardeners really love the cabbage white. These worms will go after lighter-colored varieties in preference, but are a pest to all cabbage types.
Root maggots are another problem. These larvae of flies are deposited near the stems of seedlings and burrow down to attack the roots when they hatch. Seedlings will begin to wilt when root maggots are in the house.
Prevention of both problems can be done through natural means. To dissuade root maggots from taking up residence, compost tea or a light sprinkling of tobacco juice around each plant will prevent the larvae from hatching. The caterpillar can be dealt with by encouraging birds or by planting sacrificial crops. Some larger spiders also enjoy the cabbage caterpillar, although some people don’t enjoy large spiders.
You may be wondering what to do with all that cabbage. Various types of slaw made from raw, chopped cabbage are popular accompaniments for seafood and barbecue. Cooked cabbage recipes number in the thousands, from crunchy stir-fries to slow-cooked braises. Tame strong-flavored cabbage by chopping and then blanching it for one minute before proceeding with your recipe. Include a few fennel seeds in the cooking liquid to reduce cabbage’s cooking aroma. Large outer leaves may be blanched and frozen for later use making cabbage rolls. Chopped cabbage can be blanched and frozen, or fermented into sauerkraut. The possibilities are numerous!
Cabbage is a good source of vitamins A and C. Red cabbage and green cabbage that has tight, white cores typically contain high levels of vitamin C, while dark outer leaves offer an abundance of vitamin A. Homemade, fermented sauerkraut (or refrigerated kraut that hasn’t been heat-processed) contains health-enhancing nutrients and bacteria.
Now, get out there and grow something! (Or stay indoors and start some seeds!)