As long as there are a fresh, crunchy and green cabbage leaves on my table, I am happy. Most often used in salads, this plant is among beginner-friendly species.
This guide will be equally useful to those readers who have already grown it, as well as to those who are complete beginners when it comes to successful growing of this vegetable.
The first group will get a checklist, to be sure that they are not overlooking something, while the other will get a proper introduction.
General Facts About Cabbage
Several facts about cabbage are quite often forgot, and to remember them, here is the list:
The first and among most important things I had to take into consideration is where I’m going to plant cabbage? The length nor the shape of the area are not significant, so in case that you have a triangle-shaped area you planned for this, it is fine. As long as you can provide enough space between the plants, everything should be in order.
Cabbage is the plant which can grow well both in the sunny area and in the shade, so I’ve chosen the first, since I could provide net cover, to protect the plants during the hottest parts of the day in summer.
If you have partially-shaded area of the garden, that can do the trick as well, but the shade should cover that area during the middle of the day.
To broaden planning a bit, consider planting cabbage near tomatoes and celery. These two plants can help you repel cabbage worms which are nasty little bugs with a bad habit of ruining your day.
Prepare The Soil
Once the location is determined, the next thing on the list is to lay the groundwork for the upcoming planting. My way was to till the garden in late fall so that that way oxygen will be infused better in the ground. I have never tilled the soil deeper than 7-8”, and the fertilizer I have used was always rich in nitrogen since the cabbage thrives on this nutrient.
To build up manure into the ground is great decision to make since it will spend an entire winter, releasing nutrients and working its magic. The layer of manure is best when spread at 2-3” thickness.
pH value should be kept in the range of 6.5-7, so I had to keep a close look, and not let that number gets out of hand. Keeping it balanced was one of the challenges, but luckily, I have managed to tackle the problem by applying sulfur or limestone, depending on which was needed.
Preparing The Seed
During the winter there wasn’t too much to do, so I have decided to work what was required to prepare the seeds for the upcoming sowing season, thinking that I will plant them straight to the ground, as I have always done.
Luckily, I have discovered that seed can be planted in seed trays. Those are sold in every gardening center, so finding one was just a trip away. As for the soil, I have used compost rich in nutrients, because the seed needs to have a real boost at the beginning. Compost is also good because of its looseness, and as such will not hold the sprouts back.
Seed trays need to be filled up, so there are a few centimeters left. If the plate is separated into compartments, putting one or two seeds in each is the next step. If it is not fragmented, plant the seeds in equal rows with at least 2” spacing between seeds and rows. After the seed is planted, cover it with more compost, and tap the tray lightly so that it will settle. Under no circumstances press the soil because it will push out the oxygen which is vital for the beginning of sprouting. Water the surface regularly and lightly.
Since the sprouts need sunlight, I have placed it next to the window and watched that it is not short on water. The hand-operated sprayer was far the best way to water seedlings, because it moisturizes the soil finely, without washing out the top layer of manure.
All of this procedure should be done at least five weeks before the end of the winter. I’ve marked the last day of frost and started tray planting four weeks before that since the weather can be tricky and unpredictable.
Planting In The Soil… Not Yet
Once two healthy leaves are developed, this is the sign that seedlings are ready for the next phase. In this stadium thinning out, seedlings is also a good option because the crowded area will not give strong plants.
If it is necessary, move seedlings to bigger pots which are convenient for carrying to a bit colder place. Some people have used a cold frame, but I didn’t feel like making one now, so I have moved them to the hallway where was cold enough for them to gain strength while staying shielded from freezing winds and having enough sunlight.
This time will also give great insight, and the forecast will be more precise, so no late frosts will surprise you and ruin the plants.
After a week or similar, and once night temperatures are not so low, it is time to move cabbages to their final place.
A Trip To The Garden
One last check of the pH level was taken before settling in the plants. Leveling can be done by applying the sulfur or limestone into the hole where the plant will be planted.
The spacing between plants depends on several factors:
This way all the plants can have enough ground under it so that the nutrients will be absorbed slower, and the water will be retained in the soil longer.
Depending on whether you are planting them in a raised bed or not, the hole should be deep so that the whole stem fits inside. If you wish to improve results as I have, dig a bit deeper holes and litter them with plant residue, if you have it. The straw is amazing for this appliance.
Put enough soil to support the plants, and tap it lightly so that it will settle. Water each plant lightly, because the water will help to settle the land even better. In case that you are thinking (as I was) that you have left too much space between the plants, do not fret. This is only an illusion because once the cabbage starts growing, it will fill up space between.
The Summer Is Here!
Throughout the whole summer, there is a high probability that the cabbage will hang its leaves and look lifeless. This is the first sign that more water than the usual 1.5” per week is required. My mother’s advice when it comes to gardening is never to water any plant during the hottest period of the day. This is because water gets heated within the ground, and can do unrepairable damage to the plants.
Watering is left for cooler parts of the day, and I have accustomed to getting up at 5 AM, and water the plants. By the time Sun gets up, the water is long absorbed. Overwatering is equally wrong because it can lead to overdevelopment of the leaves so that the head will split, and besides, it doesn’t look nice, such cabbage can’t be adequately stored.
Keeping the plants shielded from Sun can be done with already mentioned shade. However, this is done only in extreme conditions, for everything below that, you can just put some more soil and manure closer to the stem so that it will retain water, and heating will be lesser.
As I mentioned, cabbages thrive on nitrogen, so once the head starts developing, give it a shot of energy with plant-based manure such as soy meal or alfalfa.
Pests And Bugs
Walking through the rows of my now finely grown cabbage, I have noticed a few butterflies. Nothing scary, they are quite active in the summer. But once I saw those with white wings and black dots circling my precious cabbage, I knew that it is time for action. This species of butterfly (in the picture above) is known to do significant damage to the plants. It feeds on its leaves and lays eggs on it as well. Its larvae thrive on leaves, and if left unchecked, crop rate will suffer definitely. You can keep them away by using row covers; a net which is cast over the plants and which prevents the pest to get their dirty little hands (legs?) on your food.
Other pests include a huge variety of birds, fleas and cabbage maggots which love this plant due to its nutrient value and the amount of water its leaves hold. The latter are unique because they feed on the stem, and are often overlooked. If you notice them, remove the top layer of the soil around the stem, and apply wood ash. Cover the ash with soil again and water it. That will teach them a lesson, not to mess with you.
Cabbage can have some dangerous neighborhood if you tweak your sowing schedule a bit. Plant garlic, onions, carrots, oregano, and hyssop, are all known to keep the pests away. If nothing helps, bring out the heavy guns, and smash a few garlic cloves, sink them in vegetable oil, and put aside for 3-4 weeks with the occasional shaking. This solution kills the germs and is completely safe for plants, and moreover, it doesn’t pollute the nature. Pour it into the spray bottle and fire away!
Once the head of the cabbage is nicely developed, and a few leaves are hanging aside, it is ripe for harvesting. If the leaves around are yellowish, it means that it was left for too long, and cut them out as soon as possible. Cabbage is cut at the bottom side, where the head meets the stem. Use a sharp knife, but watch not to hurt yourself.
So, there you have it! Learning how to grow cabbage from seed was not such a big deal, is it? Now you have cabbage which was home-grown, attended daily, and cared much about. There are so many recipes you can try, that starting is difficult.
From my experience, this cabbage has far better taste. And I think that this is how success feels like.
In any case, I would love to hear from you, so if you have thoughts or bits of advice to share, feel free to do so in the comment section below.