Fall is finally here, and it is high time to plant cilantro, parsley, gumbo onions, mustard, turnips, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, and cabbage. Cabbage is a wonderful cool season vegetable with many uses. Perhaps it’s my speck of German genetics, but I love it raw or cooked. Just remember that cabbage requires cool temperatures, high fertility, and diligence to keep cabbage looper caterpillars from enjoying their portion. After eating your own sweet-tasting cabbage, you won’t want to buy the smelly stuff 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 too. For cabbage to be tender and tasty the weather must be cool. Cabbage can tolerate frosts but not really hard freezes, so now is the time to plant transplants which are available at garden centers and feed stores. Cabbage transplants should be spaced around 12 inches apart.
Cabbage requires at least 8 hours of direct sun daily to thrive. Plant it in a rich well-drained soil. It is ideal to till in several inches of organic matter (peat moss or compost) into the soil and apply 2 pounds (4 cups) of lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) per 100 square foot of bed or every 35 feet of row. In small plots or raised beds use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. Cabbage can also be grown in large whiskey barrel sized containers using potting soil and a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote.
Dig holes that are the same size as the existing pots they grew in. Remove from the pots and place the roots into 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.
Fertility is the most critical issues in growing nice heads of cabbage. 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. The main pest problem on cabbage is caterpillars (cabbage loopers) that destroy the foliage. Treat with organic Bacillus thuringiensis (B.T., Dipel, Thuricide, etc.) at planting and after each rain. Be on the lookout for aphids too.
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 a pair of 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.
Cabbage, a native of the Mediterranean, is considered a super food providing fiber, nutrients, and cancer fighting antioxidants. With cool weather, good drainage, and high fertility, there’s no reason you can’t grow your own.