Growing Cabbage

CabbageEasy to plant and delicious to eat, home gardeners growing cabbage are rewarded with abundant and dependable harvests. Extremely hardy, this member of the brassica family is a cool season biennial grown as an annual. Delicious raw or cooked, it’s excellent in slaws, salads, soups, or stir fried.

Site Preparation:

Cabbage requires regular water, full sun to partial shade, and fertile, well-drained soil. Plants thrive in soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. If possible, avoid growing cabbage in spots where other brassicas grew the previous three years.

Tip: Humus rich soil is the key to a great harvest. Add ample amounts of organic matter to the soil prior to planting.

How to Plant:

Heirloom CabbageFor best results, plant cabbage in the early spring or fall. Start seed indoors in flats and transplant into the garden when two sets of true leaves develop. Cabbage is extremely hardy and can be planted among the earliest of cool-season crops. Allow approximately 15 inches between plants and 2-3 feet between rows.

If planting from seed, sow directly into the garden about 1/2 inch deep and two weeks before the last expected frost date. Cabbage is a heavy feeder and is susceptible to many nutrient dificiencies. Apply balanced, organic fertilizers every 2-3 weeks according to the directions on the label.

Tip: Consider adding kelp meal to garden beds prior to planting. It’s chock-full of micro-nutrients and is especially good for supplying trace minerals to crops that will be consumed.


Depending on variety, transplants should be ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks. Cut the stalk at the base of the head with a sharp knife and remove and compost the outer leaves. Wash heads carefully and refrigerate for up to two weeks, if necessary. It is best to harvest cabbage in the morning, when the heads are crisp and still cool.

Note: To reduce rot, make sure cabbage heads are completely dry before storing in the refrigerator.

Insects and Diseases:

Covering young plants with floating row cover will protect cabbage from flea beetles, cabbageworms and root maggots. Collars made from paper cups with the bottoms cut out will also help protect young plants from many insect pests. Watch for small white butterflies fluttering around your cole crops. These are the adult stage of the very destructive imported cabbageworm. If cabbageworms are found, mix 1 to 1-1/2 Tbsp Bt kurstaki (Bacillus thuringiensis) per gallon of water and apply when caterpillars are young. Repeat at 5-7 day intervals while they are active.

Tip: Most cabbage diseases require wet leaves to spread – avoid using overhead sprinklers.

Seed Saving Instructions:

Biennial. Cabbage will cross-pollinate with all other Brassica oleracea, isolate by one mile the second year when going to seed. In early spring, of the second growing season, cut a shallow “X” in the top of the head. This will allow the emerging seed stalk to push up through the cabbage a bit more easily. The seed stalk actually pushes the head open and uncurls itself as it rises out of the head. It is a vegetable birth in the most graphic sense. The stalk will grow 3-4 inches tall before branching out. Cabbage seeds do not normally require much processing.

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