Our correspondent in Washington state’s Skagit River Valley farm country writes in:
We’re seeing all the signs of late harvest in farmers markets, small farms, and family gardens lately: winter squash of all sorts, pumpkins, turnips and rutabaga, beets, last crops of spinach that had been second planted in late summer. And then there’s cabbage.
We love big, tight heads of cabbage from plants that we set out right at last frost and then, these past months, watched grow. Like all long season crops, cabbages are prone to problems just because they’re around so long. Pests, always on the come and go, have all that time to find them.
But cabbages seems especially prone to mildew and fungus, wilts and rots of all sorts as well as damage from flea beetles, maggots, and a host of moths whose larvae are all big green appetite. There’s a full-page color drawing of a cabbage in The Organic Gardener’s Handbook Of Natural Insect and Disease Control (Rodale Press) that’s subtitled “What Goes Wrong and Why.” Every bit of that sorry cabbage is hosting some pestilence that leaves it brown, rotting, and speckled with holes. While informative, the sight of this diseased and infested plant is such that you might never want to eat cabbage again.
Red or green, the crisp leaves of cabbage are a delight in slaws, salads and soups.View all
Planet Natural offers heirloom cabbage seeds that are non-treated, non-GMO and NOT purchased from Monsanto-owned Seminis. Need advice? Visit our vegetable guides for tips and information on growing specific types.
To quote a nephew who was raised on a farm, that’s what I’m saying. Cabbage is subject to all kinds of dangers and thus requires lots of attention and care. But, amazingly and seemingly against all natural law, we get beautiful, unblemished heads of cabbage from our local producers as well as our own gardens. They’re big and glossy. The big-veined leaves have that crisp snap and clean, fearless flavor that takes to sweetness. Yet you can eat it raw.
Truth be told, an untrammeled cabbage has been a rare thing in our gardening experience. First year in a new garden was naturally successful. Second year, not so much. Moths blew in, fusarium wilt reared its dusty head, we might have had maggots as well. We gave cabbage and brussel sprouts a year off (but not broccoli). And we learned to cope.
Nowadays, it’s different. We know the value of rotation if your garden’s big enough to facilitate it. And we know that rotation won’t stop the cabbage looper moths that move up from warmer country every spring. So we put out traps for the moths and hunt the larvae down as they loop across the leaves. We’ve come to know integrated pest management and how to prevent problems before they start. We try to keep our soil healthy and encourage beneficial insects and birds. We’ve learned a little damage is inevitable and we cope with it. And when the damage gets out of hand, we know which products are the safest and most effective to use.
But we also get beautiful, undamaged vegetables without using dangerous chemical sprays. The evidence is there now at late-season farmers markets and on your own kitchen table. These days, it’s easier to enjoy gardening success. That’s because, in my case, I have more knowledge. I’ve learned from years of experience, yes but also from conversations with fellow gardeners, from reading, from attending seminars. We have the benefit of new research into organic methods and recently developed products that weren’t available 30 years ago. It all helps. And we’re ending up with beautiful cabbage, grown organically.
On the other hand, there’s the whole discussion about canning cabbage and putting up sauerkraut and someone yelling wait and see if you still love it so much come March. I’ll stay out of that, other than to say I love a good Reuben sandwich.
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