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Cabbage Growing and Harvest Information

by chuck.mcmullan

Cabbage is an annual cool-season crop, hardy to frost and light freezes. A smaller cabbage head has better flavor and can stay in the field longer without splitting. To keep them small, plant close together or, when the head is almost full, give the plant a sharp twist to sever the roots.

Where to Grow Cabbage

Practically a national vegetable, cabbage grows best where there is a cool, moist growing season.

Recommended Varieties of Cabbage

There are many types of cabbages: green, red, savory (with crinkled leaves), and Chinese. For an extended harvest, gardeners usually choose early, midseason, and late varieties to ripen through the growing season, with some space left in the garden for the usual red and Chinese varieties.

  • Early varieties are generally the smallest, juiciest, and most tender, but they store poorly and split easily.
    • Golden Acre (yellows resistant); Stonehead Hybrid (yellows resistant); Market Prize; Early Jersey Wakefield.
  • Mid-season varieties keep better in the field.
    • Greenback; Copenhagen Market; King Cole
  • Late varieties, best for sauerkraut, provide the largest and longest-keeping heads.
    • Danish Ballhead.
  • Yellow varieties tend to be hotter than white.
  • Savory
    • Vanguard; Savoy King
  • Red
    • Ruby Ball; Red Acre; Mammoth Red Rock
  • Miniature
    • Dwarf Morden

Soil for Planting Cabbage

Cabbages are heavy feeders during their long growing season and need fertile, well-drained soil deeply enriched with compost and a high-nitrogen-potassium fertilizer such as 5-10-5 (1 pound/square foot) or generous quantities of blood meal, cottonseed meal, and ground rock phosphate. Cabbage needs abundant soil moisture to develop properly. Watering is important during any summer dry spell.

Planting Cabbage

Germination in 5-7 days.

When –

Start seed indoors in early February for setting out when the ground is workable for July harvest; in mid-March for setting out May 1 for August harvest; and in mid-May for setting out in early July for October harvest. Adjustments can be made to this schedule depending on the local climate.

Germination45 - 95 F
For growth60 - 65 F
Soil and Water
FertilizerHeavy feeder; high N and K; may need to add lime to raise pH to deter clubroot.
Side-dressingEvery 2 weeks
pH6.0 - 7.5
WaterHeavy early and medium late in the season
Seed Planting Depth1/4 - 1/2"
Root Depth1 - 5'
Height12 - 15"
Width24 - 40"
Space between plants
In Beds15"
In Rows18"
Space Between Rows24 - 30"
Average plants per person3 - 5
For eating fresh, cut the head at ground level as soon as it feels solid. Smaller heads may grow from the remaining leaves and stems. For best storage heads, pick when still firm and solid and before the top leaves lose green color. Pull the entire plant and roots from the ground. If left too long in the ground, the cabbage core becomes fibrous and tough, and the head may split.
First Seed Starting Date: 63 - 75 Days before last frost date
Last Seed Starting Date: 104 - 130 Days before first frost date
CompanionsArtichoke, beet, bush beans, cucumber, lettuce, peas, potato, spinach.
IncompatiblesBasil, pole beans, strawberry, tomato
Cabbage growing in the garden

How –

In rows 2 1/2 feet apart, with 12-16 inches between plants. For late varieties, rows 3 feet apart and plants 2 feet apart.

One of the drawbacks in growing members of the mustard family is their susceptibility to many insect pests and soil-borne diseases. A general good gardening practice to follow is crop rotation. Never grow cabbage or any other Brassica in the same soil year after year. Rotate these plants on at least a 3-year basis, preferably on a 7-year basis. To prevent spreading soil-borne diseases, don’t compost any brassica roots; pull and destroy infected plants.

Storage Requirements
Some recommend curing heads in the sun for a few days before storing for long periods. Such curing requires covering at night. Because of the strong odors emitted, store in either a well-ventilated place or a separate room reserved for brassicas. To store, strip off all loose outer leaves. Hang by its roots, or wrap individually in newspaper, or layer in straw in an airy bin, or place several inches apart on shelves.
TemperatureHumidityStorage Life
32 - 40 F80 - 90%4 months
MethodTasteShelf Life
FrozenGood8 months
DriedFair12+ months

How Cabbage Grows

Cabbage is a wide-spreading foliage plant with handsome leaves that form a tight, hard ball head on a strong central stem. Young plants may bolt if grown at 50F for a long time; however mature plants of late varieties improve flavor in cold weather.

Cultivating Cabbage

For best results, the cabbage must be kept well fed and watered during the entire growing season. In dry weather, the heads form too soon, and with irregular growing conditions they may crack apart. Cabbages are shallow-rooted and difficult to cultivate without snapping some of the shallow feeder roots. Mulches work best to keep the weeds out. Feed with a high N-K fertilizer when seedlings are set out, again in 3 weeks, and again when the heads first start to form. Side dress by tracing a thin line of fertilizer along the row about 4 inches from the plants, scratch in lightly, and water. Water-soluble fish emulsion may be used.

Harvesting Cabbage

When to harvest cabbage

Cabbage is ready to harvest in approximately 3-4 months. Cabbage heads must feel hard and solid before cutting. When harvesting, use a sharp knife to cut the head off at the base of the plant, keeping a few outer leaves to protect the head. The heads must be harvested promptly, or they deteriorate in the field. If there is ample cool and dry storage space, the heads may be harvested and stored for use. Or the ripe heads can be stored in the field by stopping plant growth. To do this, pull the plant up slightly from the ground until a few roots can be heard snapping. This will hold the plant for a short while until it can be picked. Some European gardeners have reported success in storing cabbage plants by burying them upside down in a deep soil pit with a thin straw flooring and covering them completely with soil to just below the frost line, with another straw mulch on top.

Pests for Cabbage

  • Root Maggot -Place 3-inch tar paper squares around each seedling when transplanting to cover the soil areas; or keep the ground dusted with wood ash.
  • Cabbage butterflies/worms -controlling cabbage worms is surprisingly easy.  Cover susceptible crops with a floating row cover when planting and leave it in place until harvest.
  • Cutworms – Use stiff paper collars around transplants to extend at least 1 inch below the soil line.
  • Flea beetles – Dust with wood ash or flour dust.

Diseases for Cabbage

  • Soil fungicides are somewhat effective on brassica diseases, but they are expensive, sold in large quantity, and not practical for small home garden use, unless a great deal of cabbage is grown.
  • Clubroot fungus – Most frequent in soggy or acid soil. Grow only in well-drained soil; follow crop rotation practices; lime to keep soil pH at a neutral 7.
  • Yellows – A soil-borne diseases; choose resistant varieties.
  • Black rot – Bacteria born on seed; buy only from reputable seed dealers or bedding plant growers; rotate crops.
  • Blackleg – Bacteria spreads from infected plants, garden tools, and leftover debris. Follow crop rotation.

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