How to Grow Cabbage

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Growing cabbage is so over looked 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.  

growing cabbage heads Hidden Springs Homestead

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 seed indoors about 6 weeks before 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 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’ve have never tried direct sowing cabbage seeds.  Maybe next season, I will give it a try.

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 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 seed for the next generation. 

It is safe to eat bolted cabbage, but honestly, it will most likely be so bitter, you will not eat it. 

How to Plant

Soil pH should be higher than 6.8.   Cabbages also require full sun.  If you are curious how to start a garden this article is a great read. 

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. 

growing cabbage in home garden Hidden Springs Homestead
Cabbage planted in raised beds 2 feet apart

Of course, I do companion planting to take up the rest of the space.  So it’s not wasted. 

Good Companions

Growing cabbage heads are heavy feeders, so avoid planting them with other heavy feeders such as tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and even strawberries. 

Some great companions to plant along-side cabbages are: 

Keep mulch heavy around cabbages to retain moisture and keep them well watered so they are able to mature easily. 

Care and Maintenance

watering

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 leave will prevent disease and make cabbage to grow faster – this is not proven.   I don’t tie up my leaves at all.  I just allow them to be gorgeous. 

growing cabbage in home garden Hidden Springs Homestead

Fertilizing

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 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 is aged composted chicken manure or fish emulsion both work extremely well.  These are an easy-to-absorb nitrogen to encourage larger, more gorgeous cabbage heads. 

growing cabbages in home garden Hidden Springs Homestead

Pests

Unfortunately, cabbages are a big target for both pests and disease.  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 few are: 

Cabbage Root Fly

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. 

Control: 

Use a floating row cover and place over cabbage plants to prevent the fly from laying larva.  Be sure to hold sides down completely with rock or heavy object.  

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. 

 Cabbage Moth/Butterfly

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 off with your hands. 

growing cabbage in home garden Hidden Springs Homestead

Control:    

Fortunately, the cabbage moth can be controlled in several different ways, here’s how.

Whitefly

Whiteflies are not as much a problem as the cabbage moth, but they can cause some damage.  These are a tiny white aphid 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. 

Control:

When you find them, wash off with a “strong jet” with a garden hose.

Some other pests are the flea beetles, cabbage worms, cut worms, and more. You can read all about them in this great article from the University of Kentucky.  

Diseases

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.  Stem will die causing the cabbage plant to die. 

Control:

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. 

Downey Mildew

This too is an active fungus.  Cabbage leaves will develop a powdery gray mildew that will cause them to turn yellow, then brown and die.  The fungus is caused by excessive moisture. 

Control:

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 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 will 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 will tell you number of grow days.  Be sure to harvest cabbages before they “split.”

Carefully cut 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 will remain fresh for about 2 weeks. 

growing cabbage in vegetable garden Hidden Springs Homestead

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 and stews and even fermented.

The possibilities are endless.  

Cabbage Recipes:

I grew up eating “boiled cabbage” and still do.  Mom would simply chop up a portion of the head, rinse, and cover with water in a pot.  Season with lots bacon grease, salt and pepper.  Bring cabbage to a boil and boil hard until cabbage is tender.  It’s delicious!  

Some other really good recipes are:

Cabbage Beef Stew

Heavenly Cabbage

Reuben In A Bowl

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Pork and Cabbage Soup

Sausage and Cabbage

Fermenting Cabbage

Sauerkraut is a delicious food. 

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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3 thoughts on “How to Grow Cabbage”

  1. I wish we had a longer cold period to be able to grow cabbage here in central Florida. I do have some in the ground and doing great though, this year. Hopefully, it reaches it’s potential before the heat sets in! Great tips and information!

  2. Thanks for the great tips! I struggle with the caterpillars. I recently read that planting nasturtiums among cabbage helps to deter them, so I am going to try that and some of the herbs you suggested for companion plants and hopefully together that will keep them away!

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