Isn’t it amazing how our tastes change (literally) as we become adults? And yes, in my case, I use the word “adult” loosely. When I was a kid, cabbage certainly wasn’t on my preferred food list. Heck, anything that smells like a baby diaper shouldn’t really be on the table (hellur cabbage cousins, cauliflower and collards). But then your taste buds gradually realize that sulfur compounds in vegetables like mustard, onions, and cabbage are good for you, and if you eat them, you live a longer, healthier life.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is a wonderful cool season vegetable with many uses. My family loves it. At one particular meal I noticed my dad eating raw cabbage, coleslaw, and cooked cabbage at the same time. Now that’s a cabbage lover. Just remember that it requires cool temperatures, high fertility, and diligence to keep the cabbage loopers from enjoying their fair share. After eating your own sweet tasting harvest, you won’t want to buy it from the grocery store ever again.
Cabbage is a cool-weather plant that splits and rots when the weather is hot. Its flavor gets stronger with heat as well. For cabbage to be tender and tasty the weather must be cool. Cabbage can tolerate frosts but not really hard freezes, so it should be planted in late winter or early spring (around February) for an initial crop. A second fall crop can be planted around September in the northern half of Texas and October in the southern half of Texas. Cabbage is generally planted as transplants which are often available from nurseries and garden centers. Cabbage transplants should be spaced around 12 inches apart.
Cabbage requires at least 8 hours of direct sun each day to thrive. Plant it in a rich well drained soil. It is ideal to till in several inches of organic matter into the soil and apply 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) per 100 square foot of bed or every 35 feet of row. In small plots use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. Cabbage can also be grown in large whiskey barrel sized containers or raised beds. I’ve grown nice crops in both crown tire planters and galvanized fire rings. The ideal soil pH for cabbage is 5.5-6.5.
Dig holes that are the same size as the existing pots they are growing in. Remove from the pots and place the roots into the freshly dug holes. Gently firm the soil around them, being careful not plant the plants any deeper than they were growing in their pots. Water them thoroughly with a water soluble plant food (Miracle Grow, etc.) at the labeled recommendation.
Cool temperatures and fertility are the most critical issues in growing nice heads of cabbage. Never let them get dry. 2-3 weeks after transplanting fertilize them with 1 cup of high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, etc.) for each 35 feet of row. Sprinkle half of the fertilizer down each side of the row. Lightly work it into the soil and then water. Do this again immediately when you notice heads beginning to form. High nitrogen organic fertilizers like manure and blood meal can also be used. I frequently use litter from my hen house. The main pest problems on cabbage are assorted caterpillars that destroy the foliage. Treat with organic Bacillus thuringiensis (B.T., Dipel, Thuricide, Worm Killer, etc.) as soon as you notice the first damage. Be on the lookout for aphids as well.
Depending on the variety, cabbage is ready to harvest in 65-120 days from transplanting. Harvest the heads when they are firm and solid by cutting with hand pruners just below the lower leaves. Leave the coarse outer leaves on for protection until you get ready to use it. Prepare immediately or refrigerate for weeks.
Recommended cabbage varieties for Texas include Bravo, Blue Vantage, Early Jersey Wakefield, Gourmet, Red Rookie, Rio Verde, Ruby Ball (red), and Sanibel. I usually plant Bonnie Hybrid because it’s what I can find. Cabbage is native to the Mediterranean.
I didn’t think summer was ever going to leave this year to make room for cabbage weather. Like my dad and my Block ancestors from Prussia, I love cabbage, especially home-grown fresh cabbage which is sweet tasting and not stinky like cabbage that has been held and stored. I’ll never forget living in San Antonio when the cabbage prices were too low and the Verstraeten family plowed their fields under in Von Ormy leaving a stench that I could smell all the way to San Antonio! These are the same odors that drive some out of the house when cauliflower or collards are cooked.
Just as soon as I knew the temperatures were breaking I planted a six pack of hybrid cabbage in a bed for Mrs. G (she’s part German as well) and a six pack for my dad in a fire ring at my parent’s. I can’t wait for traditional coleslaw, marinated coleslaw, smothered cabbage, and cabbage rolls!