How to grow cabbage – an easy beginner’s guide
- By: Ashley Saunders
- April 2020
As one of the oldest vegetables in existence, cabbage is popular as ever, the world over! It can be steamed, boiled, braised, microwaved, stuffed, or stir-fried, and eaten raw. So, it’s worth attempting to grow cabbage!
Cabbage is high in fibre, vitamin C & K, naturally fat-free and cholesterol-free. As the health benefits are seemly endless, it’s worth trying to grow cabbage in your veg patch!
As an essential veg, they are the perfect addition to a vegetable patch. However, they can be a challenge to grow. You may want to start with herbs, potatoes or try to grow carrots, if you’re new to growing veg.
So, here’s how to grow cabbage.
Interesting cabbage facts!
Dutch sailors used to eat Sauerkraut, a dish made from fermented cabbage, on long journeys to prevent scurvy.
In ancient China, people believed cabbage was a magic cure-all for bald men.
Russian consumes the most cabbage in the world.
Red cabbage makes an excellent all-natural dye in food or on fabric.
The sulphur in cabbage works wonders for skin, hair, and nails.
A 138-pound cabbage won first prize at the Alaska State Fair in 2012.
As a heavy feeder, cabbage quickly soaks up all the nutrients in the soil. You’ll, therefore, need to prepare the soil by mixing in aged manure or compost.
Cabbages need a sunny site and firm soil. It also needs to be well-draining as roots that stand in water cause heads to split or rot.
You shouldn’t grow cabbages in the same soil that you grew them (or other brassicas) the previous year. So it’s a good idea to rotate crops every year.
The RHS recommends growing the following cabbage varieties:
This summer cabbage has good club root resistance and has tasty firm, compact heads ready from late summer to autumn.
A spring cabbage that produces a plentiful crop of small, pointed mid-green heads.
This is a winter Savoy cabbage with dark green outer leaves and solid hearts.
You can start to grow cabbage indoors, then transplant outside or begin in the open ground. That said, you can’t use growing bags.
If starting in indoors. Sow seeds in 2 cm deep soil around 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Before planting the seedlings outdoors, let them harden for a week.
Wait for a cloudy afternoon around 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost of spring to transplant seedlings outdoors. Depending on how large you want each head to be, plant seedlings 30 to 60 cm apart in rows. The closer they are together, the smaller the cabbages.
You can grow cabbage by directly sow seeds (or transplant seedlings) outdoors mid to late summer for an autumn harvest or if your garden is particularly hot and dry.
How to nurture cabbages
As seedlings grow to about 13 cm in height, thin them to leave ample room between them. You can transplant the thinned seedlings elsewhere.
As cabbage needs plenty of nutrients to keep growing, it’s worth mulching regularly. A thick layer of mulch will help to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
Around 2 weeks after transplanting, fertilise with a balanced fertiliser. Wait another week and then add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Your cabbage needs nitrogen in the early stages to help with growth.
Cabbage requires regular, even watering. Uneven watering can result in stunted or cracked heads. As plants reach maturity, cut back on watering to avoid splitting heads.
Most green cabbage varieties take around 70 days to mature. You can start to harvest when heads are firm and of a decent size.
With a sharp knife, cut each cabbage head at its base. Remove any yellow leaves. However, you’ll want to retain any green leaves as they protect the head when in storage.
You might be able to get a second crop by leaving the outer leaves and root in the ground when you remove the head. The plant will start to develop a new head. Remove all but four or so smaller heads and harvest when the size of a tennis ball.
After harvesting, remove the entire stem and root system from the soil to prevent disease. Only compost healthy plants and destroy any with an infestation.
How to store fresh cabbage
You can lightly wrap your cabbage in plastic and store in your refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Freezing is not recommended as the defrosted cabbage is limp and soggy. So ideally, only plant a row or two of cabbages at a time and space sowing so extend the harvest season.
Common pests and problems
It can be a challenge to grow cabbage as it can be a magnet for some types of garden pests. As with all plants, it’s a good idea to rotate your cabbage crop every few years to avoid any potential build-up of soil borne diseases.
Slugs and snails
Both will feed on seedlings and you’ll notice their slime trails on the soil and leaves! Thankfully, you can easily control slugs and snails by numerous methods including sawdust, eggshell barriers and copper tape.
Caterpillars of all types will happily feed on brassicas, including white butterflies. If you don’t see the caterpillars, you will see the holes they make in the leaves. They will also bore into the heart of cabbages.
You may be able to pick the caterpillars off. If not, use insect-proof mesh or fine netting to prevent egg-laying.
Cabbage root fly
White larvae feed on the roots just below the soil surface. This stunts growth and causing plants to wilt and die. Seedlings are most vulnerable. You can easily stop these creatures by growing your cabbages under insect-proof mesh or horticultural fleece.
Plants may die from club root. You’ll see roots become swollen and distorted. Leaves will become pale and yellow and wilt easily. To avoid club root you need to improve drainage and add lime to make the soil more alkaline. Do not grow in affected soil.
That’s how to grow cabbages!
While admittedly not the easiest veg to grow, cabbage is a staple vegetable that worth giving it a go in your garden. And now you know how to grow cabbage, you can lower your food miles and be creative in your garden.