Many common vegetables are cabbages or genus brassica. Head and leafed cabbage, of course, but also broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi are members of the cabbage family. They are some of the most popular and traditional garden vegetables grown.
Because they are often grown in North America, cabbages are well understood and can be cultivated in nearly every climate zone on the continent.
Best Soil for Cabbage Growing
Cabbages require nitrogen-rich soil that is somewhat firm, especially for tight-headed varieties. Most gardeners will include an amount of rotten manure with each transplanting and side dress or spot-water with compost (or tea) about midway through the year. This is especially important if two crops are attempted in the same space in one year – a common practice to maximize yields.
Varieties of Cabbage
There are many varieties of cabbage grown in North America. The most common are:
With broccoli and cauliflower varieties, the choices are also varied. The most common are:
Baccus, Goliath, and Liberty for broccoli.
Alert, Amazing, Cheddar, Self Blanche, and Violet Queen for cauliflowers.
When to Plant Cabbages
Exact planting times will depend on your climate zone as well as whether you are planting outdoors from seed or transplants. The variety may also play a role, though most cabbages have roughly the same tolerances and needs for germination.
Most gardeners looking to get two crops out of the year will start seeds indoors before the season begins and transplant seedlings to the garden row just before the last frost comes. Since cabbages are frost-tolerant, they can withstand light frosts even at this young age. After harvest just after mid-year, a new set of seedlings or seeds can be started in the same rows for another planting. This one will usually be harvested just before or after the first killing frost.
Proper Care for Cabbage
Keeping the bed weed-free and not disturbing the roots of the cabbage are most important when caring for the plants. Watering should be at about one inch per week, a little more in dryer climates and less in more humid areas. Soaking should go relatively deep – about half a foot. Most cabbage growers use the flood method of watering rather than overhead sprays because of this requirement.
Cauliflowers need blanching (which is why the self-blanching varieties are more popular now). This requires that they be covered when the heads become visible. Otherwise, they will mature too quickly and turn a greenish yellow, losing flavor as they seed. Traditionally, this is done by tying the outer broad leaves over the head of the plant. Self-blanching varieties usually grow to cover themselves. Brown paper bags or other breathable covers (cloth tarps, etc.) can also be used. The object is to block the light.
Brussels sprouts should have their tips cut towards the end of the season when the sprouts begin to appear in earnest. This clipping encourages sprout growth and discourages more plant growth, maximizing yield.
When and How to Harvest Cabbages
Harvest times depend on the time of year, of course. When ripe, harvest in mid-summer should be immediate to allow for another planting. In the fall, most cabbages can be left in the ground until after Thanksgiving, harvested when eaten to that point. Cauliflower is an exception to this rule.
Heads can be snapped off (usually by twisting) or cut with a gardener’s knife. Brussels sprouts and similar coles can be trimmed off the plant with shears or heavy scissors.
Pests and Diseases Common to Cabbages
The main pest to cabbages is the cabbage caterpillar (aka cabbage worm or looper). This pest is the larvae of the cabbage white butterfly, a beautiful flier whose appearance may be worth a little crop loss to some gardeners. These worms will go after lighter-colored varieties in preference, but are a pest to all cabbage types.
Root maggot is another problem. These larvae of flies are deposited near the stems of seedlings and burrow down to attack the roots when they hatch. Seedlings will begin to wilt when this is the case.
Prevention of both problems can be done through natural means. To prevent root maggot, compost tea or a light sprinkling of tobacco juice around each plant will prevent the larvae from hatching. The caterpillar can be dealt with by encouraging birds or by planting sacrificial crops. Some larger spiders also enjoy the cabbage caterpillar.
Some more resources on cabbage growing: