Pair it with bacon or shred it for a slaw, cabbage is a supremely useful, healthy vegetable that grows well in our relatively cool climate and is easy to grow. With a little planning it’s also possible to have a supply of cabbage all year round, even through the coldest of winters. The only downside tends to be the amount of space they take up.
A foolproof way to grow healthy cabbage seedlings is to sow them in module seed trays – sow one or two seeds in each module 1.5cm deep. Thin out the weaker seedling. Cabbages will germinate in about a week and will be ready for planting about three weeks later. Make sure to harden off early sowings carefully. The key with cabbage is to plant in to firm ground – the root and stem will eventually have to support a very heavy head! Since they are a hungry crop, add plenty of compost or manure the previous autumn. Water plants well before sowing – create a hole with a dibber, pop the seedling in and then firm in very well. Spacing will determine the size of the heads - between 45-60cm is about right. Cabbages will tolerate partial shade. Include cabbages in your brassica rotation – do not plant them where there have been brassicas for at least 3-4 years previously. A suggested planting plan for a near continuous supply of cabbage (assuming you have the space):
Hoe around young seedlings regularly to keep weeds down. Water regularly to prevent the roots from drying out. Earthing up stems will help the plant to support the head, particularly in a windy site.
Harvest spring and summer cabbages as soon as they have formed good compact heads. Autumn and winter cabbages will stand much longer in the ground, but you can lift them and store in a cool shed if you want to clear your beds for the winter. Harvest by cutting through the base of the stem.
Cabbage Root Fly maggots eat the roots causing the plant to stop growing. Prevention is better than cure – 15cm wide “collars” made from felt or carpet placed around the stem at soil level, can prevent the adult fly from laying its eggs. The other major pests are butterfly (large and small white) and moths which lay their eggs on the underside of leaves – the resulting caterpillars will munch their way through your crop in no time. You can remove the caterpillars as they appear, but again the best option is prevention – cover your cabbage crop with appropriate netting to stop the butterfly laying its eggs on the leaves. A more serious (though less prevelent) problem is clubroot, a fungus which can stay in the soil for up to 20 years.
You can test to see if the young seedling is planted firmly enough as follows: after planting, tug at a leaf, the leaf should pull off (as opposed to pulling the whole seedling out of the ground.
After harvesting a cabbage head, cut a cross in to the stem, if left in the soil, each quadrant in the stem will sprout baby cabbage leaves which effectively gives you a second crop from the one plant.