Cabbage is a cool season vegetable that most home gardeners can grow twice a year – one crop in the spring and the second crop in the late summer. Easy to grow, easy to preserve and a wide variety of ways to use this delicious vegetable, so what’s not to love? Use these planting and growing tips so you get start producing your twice-yearly harvest of versatile cabbage heads.
Start from Seeds
Cabbage can be grown from plants or seeds, but it’s more cost effective and sustainable to grow a cabbage patch from seeds. To get you cabbage patch started, you may need to purchase some high quality plants, which will come in individual seedling cups or in a bundle of 25-50 plants. When purchasing bundled plants, place the roots in a cup of cool water immediately, keep plants out of direct sun and plant as soon as possible.
If starting with seeds for a spring crop, sow seeds indoors in containers or in a cold frame 8-10 weeks before the last predicted spring frost. While cabbage grows its best in cool temperatures, it will not tolerate a frost. Harden off seedlings for one week prior to setting them out in the garden.
For a second cabbage crop in the early fall, start seeds indoors 12 weeks prior to the first predicted fall frost in your growing zone. Plant directly into garden soil when seedlings are 6 weeks old.
Plant both early and late varieties (whether using seeds or plants) to extend your harvest season.
How to Plant
Cabbage needs a sunny location and well-draining soil and prefers a pH level of between 6.0 and 6.5. To meet their soil needs, loosen soil with a tiller or spade, top with at least two inches of compost or well-rotted cow manure, toss on the recommended amount of slow release, granulated fertilize and give the soil another light tilling or spading to mix everything together. Water the soil well and let sit overnight before planting the cabbage seedlings.
Dig planting holes 12-18 inches apart and set seedlings in the holes almost up to the bottom of the first set of leaves. Some cabbage varieties will produce 8 inch heads and other cabbage varieties will produce 12-14 inch heads, read the variety’s growing label and space plants accordingly.
Cabbage plants will grow well when planted at the base of other garden plants if the soil has enough nutrients and moisture to support the plants. Companion plant cabbage on the east side of tomato plants so the taller plants will provide afternoon shade for the tender seedlings and developing heads.
Harvesting Cabbage Heads
Begin harvesting cabbage when the heads feel firm when gently squeezed. Use a sharp knife to slice the heads off the base stem. Peel off the tough outer leaves and store in a cool, dry place. Do not wash heads prior to storing, wipe off with paper towel and store as-is. When properly stored in a cool, dry location, fall grown cabbage heads will remain fresh and edible as-is until time for the spring crop to be harvested.
Cabbage is a biennial crop that produces seeds in its second year, but it must be exposed to cold weather before it will produce seeds. If winters are mild in your growing zone, leave some fall heads in the garden to over-winter and produce seeds the following spring. In colder climates dig up a few developed plants and replant in buckets of moist sawdust and place the buckets in a cold garage or root cellar for the winter. The flower sprigs which will develop come spring contain the tiny black cabbage seeds, allow seeds to mature on the plant (flowers will fade) before harvesting and drying.