QUESTION: How do I know when my cabbage is ready to harvest? Is there a way to determine if they are ready? Is it more tender if the cabbage heads are smaller? -Shannon W
ANSWER: It is extra important to harvest cabbage at the proper time, as cabbage heads that are harvested too soon or too late do not have as much nutritional value as those harvested at the appropriate time in the plant’s growth cycle. Some varieties of cabbage have a very narrow window of time in which they need to be harvested, with just a few days in which the optimal harvesting time can be met. Other varieties can go several weeks in the garden without beginning to deteriorate as long as the weather allows them. A general rule that applies to most varieties is the larger the head, the longer they will hold up while waiting for harvest.
The right time to harvest your cabbage plants will depend on the variety of cabbage that you planted, the weather conditions that they grew in and when the heads naturally mature. The size of the heads will not tell you whether they are ripe for picking or not, as cabbage head sizes vary greatly from one to the next. The firmness of the heads, instead, is what will indicate that your cabbage plants are ready to harvest.
When squeezed, the heads of your cabbage plants should be firm all the way through. The heads should be full and firm, with not too much give when you squeeze it. If the heads look full but feel a little soft when you squeeze them, let them mature for a few more days before harvesting. Looks can often be deceiving and cabbage heads may feel firm on the outside on the inside are still loose and flimsy. A good forceful squeeze on all sides of the head should let you know if it’s solid all the way through. If the heads feel solid and tightly formed, they are ready for harvest.
Use a sharp, stainless steel knife to harvest your cabbage. Using stainless steel is important because the carbon on other metals react with the phytonutrients in cabbage and cause the skin to turn black from contact. Use your sharp, stainless steel knife to cut through the stem just below the head. Remove the head, but leave the plant in the ground and continue to cultivate it. Oftentimes, if the weather is still cool, the base of the plant will develop smaller, mini-heads of cabbage in the place of the original head. The second harvest typically doubles the amount of food you can reap from one cabbage plant, and the smaller heads are also extra tender and tasty.