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Growing cabbage is so overlooked in the home garden. Given cool weather and enough moisture, it is easy to grow cabbage. It can be grown naturally in both spring and fall. The rich flavor of cabbage in recipes and even fermenting are endless.
How to Grow Cabbage
Are you considering learning how to grow cabbage? If so, you’ll find that it’s a hardy vegetable and it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Cabbage is in what is called the Brassica family.
Brassica’s are the mustard family comprised of Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, turnips, and several other “cole crops.” Many people refer to them as “cool crops” because they like cool temperatures for growing.
Start From Seeds
Yes, and when growing cabbage, you have several choices.
- You can start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost and then transplant them into the backyard garden when they are 3-5 inches tall.
- Or, cabbage can even be direct sown into the soil about 4 weeks prior to the last scheduled frost. If you direct sow, seeds need to be ¼ to ½ inch deep, and thin them as they grow to 1-3 feet apart.
Good news! Seedlings pulled up can be transplanted elsewhere in the garden.
I transplant seedlings. Honestly, I have never tried direct sowing cabbage seeds. Maybe next season, I will give it a try.
RELATED: Cabbage can be grown in the fall as well. Here’s how to plan ahead for two cabbage crops this year.
When To Plant
Cabbages grow best in temperatures of 60 – 65°F. Growing cabbages can comfortably tolerate temperatures down to 45° F and up to as high as 80° F.
They can tolerate cold temperatures too. Frost will not kill cabbages, but temperatures around 26 – 30°F will burn the outside leaves. An easy way to prevent burn on cabbages is to use row covers to help protect them.
You should also know that growing cabbage in hot weather is not a good idea. Temperatures above 75-80°F will cause plants to bolt, meaning they will “flower” and try to produce seeds for the next generation.
It is safe to eat bolted cabbage, but honestly, it will most likely be so bitter you will not want to eat it.
How to Plant
Cabbage plants also need adequate space to grow in the garden. The amount of space between them will determine the size of the cabbage head.
Planting 2-3 feet about will produce larger heads, while planting them closer, 1-2 feet apart, will produce smaller heads. It is not recommended to plant them any closer than 12 inches, though.
My raised beds are 40 x 45 inches. I normally grow 3-4 cabbages in a bed. This spaces them approximately 2 feet apart. And I am well satisfied with the results. To make the most of the space you have, before you begin, create a garden map to maximize your space.
Of course, I do companion planting to take up the rest of the space. So it’s not wasted.
RELATED: Take the guesswork out! Use the easy formula worksheets in The Canning Garden Workbook (printable) to figure out how much to plant, for canning, to feed your family for a full year!
Some great companions to plant alongside cabbages are:
Keep mulch heavy around cabbages to retain moisture and keep them well watered so that they are able to mature easily.
Care and Maintenance
Cabbage requires that soil be kept consistently moist, but NOT be sitting in water. On average, cabbages will need 1–1½ inches of water every 5-7 days.
Do large cabbage leaves need to be tied-up for support?
There’s really no need to tie up cabbage leaves. The stem is completely capable of holding up the head as well as all the large leaves.
Some people do believe that tying up leaves will prevent disease and make cabbage grow faster – this is not proven. I don’t tie up my leaves at all. I just allow them to be gorgeous.
Fertilizing cabbage plants organically is easy. When plants are first placed in the soil, water them well and place good organic mulch, such as finely chopped leaves or straw, around the stems to help hold in moisture.
When heads first begin to produce, feed them with a good dose of all-purpose organic fertilizer with a high nitrogen count.
The best organic fertilizers for cabbage are aged composted chicken manure or fish emulsion both work extremely well. These are easy-to-absorb nitrogen to encourage larger, more gorgeous cabbage heads.
Unfortunately, cabbages are a big target for both pests and diseases. But don’t give up. They can be controlled naturally. It just takes some planning.
There is a large list of pests that bother cabbages, and a few are:
Cabbage Root Fly
A small grey fly, about the size of a house fly, lays eggs on the base of the cabbage. Its hatches into a cabbage maggot that burrows down and eats on the roots.
The symptom of a cabbage maggot: small plants stop growing and turn a blue color.
Use a floating row cover and place it over cabbage plants to prevent the fly from laying larvae. Be sure to hold your sides down completely with rocks or heavy objects.
Use cabbage collars and lay around the base of the stem on top of the soil. This helps to prevent maggots from being able to burrow down into roots.
A 3rd and great way to control cabbage maggots is to use active nematodes to eat away and fight the maggots. I use these. It only adds healthy amendments to the soil.
These caterpillars can destroy a cabbage plant in a day. To find them, carefully look for small yellow eggs on the underside of leaves and hose them off with a garden hose or brush them off with your hands.
Fortunately, the cabbage moth can be controlled in several different ways; here’s how.
Whiteflies are not as much of a problem as the cabbage moth, but they can cause some damage. These are tiny white aphids found on the bottom side of the cabbage leaf. They produce a sticky substance on the leaf that is thought eventually become a disease called grey mold.
When you find them, wash them off with a “strong jet” with a garden hose.
Some other pests are flea beetles, cabbage worms, cutworms, and more. You can read all about them in this great article from the University of Kentucky.
Of course, as with any organic vegetable, growing cabbages are subject to disease.
Actually, way more than we can go into here but a good article to find out some great information is this one from Clemson University.
Black Rot and Black Leg Fungus:
These are 2 separate diseases, but they can be controlled by using the same process, so I listed them together:
Black Rot – Basically, the leaves turn yellow in a “V-shape” toward the vein of the leaf. The yellow will wilt and turn black/brown.
Black Leg – Symptom is “ashy gray spots speckled with black dots” on both the leaves and the stem. The stem will die, causing the cabbage plant to die.
Unfortunately, there is no liquid control, so PREVENTION is the key to controlling both black rot and black leg.
These are bacteria that survive on leaves and such left in the garden. These can be avoided by practicing rotation (avoid planting) and not planting another cole-crop in a location for 2 years.
Remove any volunteer weeds or plants around cabbage plants and destroy any plants that may be diseased.
This, too, is an active fungus. Cabbage leaves will develop powdery gray mildew that will cause them to turn yellow, then brown and die. The fungus is caused by excessive moisture.
Rotate with other cole crop vegetables. Use wide spacing with planting to allow for adequate drainage and drying of leaves.
When watering, avoid wetting the leaves. Water down low near the stem and soil.
If it becomes necessary, an organic copper fungicide will help to destroy the disease. Be sure to follow directions closely on the bottle.
Harvest and Store
If you started your cabbages from seed, the seed packet would define how many days it takes for your cabbage head to fully mature.
If you purchased plants from a garden center, a small tag in the package would tell you the number of growing days. Be sure to harvest cabbages before they “split.”
Carefully cut the head from the stalk using a sharp knife.
Tip: Leave the large outer leaves intact on the stem. Cut an “X” in the stem top, and smaller cabbage heads will grow if you have an early enough harvest.
Store in the refrigerator, and they will remain fresh for about 2 weeks.
Cooking and Fermenting Cabbage
You can prepare cabbage in many different ways. It can be used as a gluten-free wrap, baked, stuffed, fried, chopped into slaw, and even used in soups, stews, and even fermented.
The possibilities are endless.
I grew up eating “boiled cabbage” and still do. Mom would simply chop up a portion of the head, rinse it, and cover it with water in a pot—season with lots of bacon grease, salt, and pepper. Bring cabbage to a boil and boil hard until the cabbage is tender. It’s delicious!
Some other really good recipes are:
What do you think? Are you all about growing cabbage in your home garden now?
If you already grow cabbage, did you learn about something you didn’t already know? If you’ve never grown cabbage, I hope I’ve encouraged you to do so.
Is cabbage going to become a part of your backyard garden? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you now think about cabbage.
More Garden Growing Tips:
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Dianne Hadorn is the owner of Hidden Springs Homestead nestled in the hills of East Tennessee. She is a Master Gardener and enjoys helping others learn how to grow and preserve their own food and sharing tips for living a more self-sufficient lifestyle.