Chinese Cabbage

Cabbage has a long history as a food crop. The Celts of central and western Europe are believed to have introduced it as a food crop in the Mediterranean as early as 600 B.C. (they were famous raiders) and later throughout Europe, England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. According to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Celtic knowledge of it was so ancient as to have influenced the Latin name, Brassica (from the Celtic word bresic, meaning “cabbage”).

Alright, this isn’t a history course, but I thought that was interesting….

Cabbage is a popular vegetable for fermenting and long-term storage in such dishes as sauerkraut, curtido, sour cabbage, suan cai, and Tianjin. Besides picking and fermenting, it can be steamed, stewed, sauteed, braised, added to soups and stews, or eaten raw. It’s one of the most versatile vegetables and is a great source of dietary fiber along with vitamins C and K.

Cabbage is a cole crop (a type of plant that grows well in cool weather) and is fairly easy to grow. There are many shapes, colors, and leaf textures among the many varieties. Colors range from the well-known green to purple and white. Shapes range from oblate, round, and pointed. Leaf types are generally divided between crinkled-leaf, loose-head savoys, and smooth-leaf firm-head cabbages.

When to plant cabbage

Tip: Cabbage is very susceptible to diseases such as black rot, downy mildew, and Alternaria; and pests like aphids, cabbage maggots, cabbage worm, diamond back moth, and cabbage lopper. Practice good crop rotation and only plant it where you have not grown cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabaga or Brussels sprouts in the past four years.

Cabbage detests summer heat over 80 degrees F and grows best in the cool weather of early spring and fall. If you’re planting cabbage in the spring, start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost and transplant the cabbage seedlings outside in your garden after the threat of frost has passed. Cabbage has a reputation for being able to survive frost, which is true of mature plants. But cabbage seedlings are just as susceptible to frost damage as other tender annuals. You can plant them out 4 weeks before your last frost, but if very cold weather below 25 degrees F or frost is expected, cover the seedlings with milk jugs or row covers. When transplanting, make sure you harden off the seedlings first – keep them in a protected spot and out of direct sunlight on your porch or patio for at least 3 days before planting. This gives them the chance to adjust to breezes and night/day temperature swings to avoid transplant shock. Check your first and last frost date here.

Related Post  How To Grow Sweet Corn In Your Garden

Plant cabbage whee it will receive plenty of direct sunlight – at least 6 hours per day. Plant seedlings 15-18″ apart and so the stem is as deep as it was in the container. Fertilize 6″ from each seedling with an organic, high nitrogen fertilizer at planting time (that means the first number on the fertilizer label is the biggest number of the 3). Six weeks after planting, fertilize again with the same fertilizer, but do not fertilize after this point.

Cabbage seeds will definitely germinate in the cold soil of early spring – but don’t seed cabbage after the threat of frost has passed, as they’ll get a late start and summer heat my damage the plant, slow its growth, or make the plant bolt (start producing seeds). However, frost won’t damage a maturing plant, which is why cabbage is perfect for the fall vegetable garden. To harvest in the fall, sow cabbage seeds directly in your garden 8 weeks before your first frost. Seeds should be sown at a depth of 1/4″ and 3 seeds set every 15-18″. Thin cabbage seedlings after they grow their second set of leaves or later, leaving one plant every 18″. Cabbage will benefit from a 2″ organic mulch around the plants to suppress weeds.

Depending on the variety, cabbage takes 60-100 days to mature, so read the info on the seed packet and time your planting appropriately.

Tip: Cabbage plants do best when planted near herbs like dill and rosemary. These herbs harbor beneficial insects which prey on the insects that damage cabbage.

planting cabbage

Planting a cabbage seedling.

Soil prep for cabbage

Cabbage prefers a fertile soil that drains well and is high in organic matter, so work a significant amount of compost into your soil before planting. A neutral soil pH of 7 is fine, but cabbage will do best in a soil pH of 6.5 – 6.8.

Cabbage needs plenty of water

Cabbage roots are very shallow and they quickly dry out., which causes stress for the plant and reduced head size. The goal of watering cabbage is to maintain even soil moisture to provide a steady supply of water. In the absence of rainfall, add 1-2″ of water per week. Consistent watering is key, as uneven moisture can result in mature heads that split open. A 2″ organic mulch around the plants can help retain soil moisture.

Related Post  Review: Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard

When to harvest cabbage

Harvest cabbage when the heads reach full size and are firm. To harvest, simply cut the head from the stem at the soil line. Keep the wrapper leaves intact for protection.

Cabbage heads should be harvested when they reach a usable size and are firm and compact. Cut the head from the stem leaving 2-3 wrapper leaves for protection. If cabbages are left in the garden too long after maturing, they are subject to head splitting. You can slow this and keep the cabbage in your garden a little longer by twisting the heads a little or slicing the roots.

Tip: On some varieties, if you harvest the head and leave some of the outer leaves and stem planted, smaller heads may grow from the stem for a second harvest.

Storing cabbage

Cold storage for cabbage is a little tricky, as it requires a temperature of 32-40 degrees and 95% humidity. This perfectly describes a root cellar. As 99% of us don’t have access to this ancient convenience, we’re stuck with modern refrigeration. However, refrigerators are very low in humidity and average around 40-42 degrees. Therefore, you can store cabbage fresh for about 30 days in teh fridge, freeze it for use in soups and stews later, can cabbage, or ferment it. For the best flavor, eat soon after picking. Avoid storing cabbage with apples, pears, or other ethylene producing fruits as bitter flavors will develop.

Sources: University of Minnesota Extension, Michigan State University Extension, Urban Farmer, Utah State University Extension,

this article was firstly published by