QUESTION: How do you grow a healthy cabbage? Do you have any tips for planting cabbage? -Ron C
ANSWER: Cabbage is a heavy feeder, so to grow the healthiest possible heads, you will want to prepare the soil before planting by mixing in an aged compost or manure to improve the soil. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage respond particularly well to rich, fertile soil. You will also want to feed your cabbage plants every two to three weeks after planting, first with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and then with a balanced fertilizer for each additional feeding.
Till the soil to make sure that it is well-draining, as roots that stand in water will cause the heads to split or rot. If starting seeds indoors, sow one-fourth of an inch deep about six to eight weeks before the last spring frost. Before planting the seedlings outdoors, harden off your cabbage plants over the course of a week. Then, transplant small plants outside on a cloudy afternoon around two to three weeks before the last spring frost date in your area.
Plant seedlings one to two feet apart in rows that are spaced depending on the size of heads that you want to cultivate. The closer you plant your cabbage plants together, the smaller the cabbages will be. For fall harvests, direct sow your seeds outside or move your transplants in the mid to late summertime. If you live in a climate that is particularly hot and dry, wait to plant until late summer and make sure that the younger plants don’t dry out in the hot sun.
When your seedlings grow to about five inches tall, thin them out to leave the amount of space between them that you choose based on the size cabbages that you want to produce. If you want to keep the seedlings instead of tossing them out, feel free to transplant them to another area of the garden.
Mulch around your cabbage plants to help retain moisture and balance the soil temperature. The best possible temperature for cabbage growing is 60 to 65 degrees F. Young plants may bolt or form loose heads if exposed to temperatures that are 45 degrees F or below. Provide one inch of water per week, keeping the soil moist but never soggy at all times.
Fertilize every two to three weeks, on the first feeding, use a nitrogen rich fertilizer, as cabbage needs plenty of nitrogen early in its growing cycle. Use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer for additional feedings, every two to three weeks, according to the instructions on the package. Consider also adding kelp meal to the soil prior to planting to boost the micronutrient and trace mineral content of your soil to produce healthier cabbages. Also, be sure to practice crop rotation with cabbages, never planting them in the same place where they were grown in the past few years to help avoid a buildup of soil-borne diseases.