Sometimes, it feels that I have learned everything about gardening there is. Tilling, mulching, sowing, I have decent knowledge about all of those subjects. Then, I decided to make a salad with red cabbage, and it hit me. I have never grown one of these! The challenge was accepted, and here are the results.
Knowing how to grow red cabbage is a result of tries and failures, and here’s my guide, so that you can have less tries and failures.
Is Red Cabbage The Same As The Ordinary One?
Neither “yes” nor “no” can be answered to this question. Red cabbage is very similar to ordinary, green one, and is, in fact, a variety of this, but differs in several aspects so much that it can be considered as separate one. Some facts about red cabbage are as follows.
What Will Be Needed For Growing Red Cabbage?
If you read my guide on how to grow cabbage from seed, you have good basics for this adventure. In general, everything required for growing ordinary cabbage can and will be used here. That includes a trowel, a seed tray, fertilizer and a bit of goodwill. Also, good setup time is essential.
As with regular cabbage, you can decide whether you will grow it in a pot or the garden. This also depends on the weather. If summer in your area is too hot, you will probably want to avoid it and to opt for container growing. I have started seeds in a tray and then switched to the garden after a while.
What Location And The Soil Are The Best?
The matter of place is pretty delicate when it comes to all kinds of cabbages. They need full sun but are somewhat sensitive to heat. Therefore, the site must be appropriate to fulfill these needs. Chose a place with partial shade, because cabbage can and will tolerate some shady areas. If no other option is available, consider buying a row cover. This item can help you repel the snails, and will make a screen to protect tender leaves of your vegetables.
The matter of soil is straightforward when it comes to green cabbage. It requires 6.5-7 pH value of the land. On the other hand, red cabbage is a bit more tolerant when it comes to this factor. 6.3-7.2 are the values you shouldn’t cross. If you are uncertain about the value of the pH, I can recommend you to buy a pH test kit. This device is handy in garden overall, so it is a quality purchase.
Red cabbage will also require a lot of organic ingredients. Therefore, to make your soil rich, apply a few inches of organic matter into the ground. This way you have provided nutrients most naturally. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to add it later. I have thoroughly tilled the soil where organics were scattered. If it remains on the top, nutrients will not be adequately infused. Also, by turning the ground over and over, I have aerated it and made it fluffy and beautiful.
Drainage is vital for red cabbage since too much water can lead to developing of several nasty diseases and fungi. On top of that, if the ground is still cold, you can freely take into consideration that mold will kill a significant amount of your vegetables. To avoid this scenario, add a few shovels of sand into the soil. This will improve water flow, and compost will keep the moist in sufficient amounts.
If your garden is troubled with clay and has a terrible habit of retaining water, it is not too late to start fixing it at the time when seeds are sown in trays. Since they spend 4-6 weeks at this location, you have more than enough time to add more sand and keep adding bio-waste with constant tilling, until drainage is improved.
How Should I Start The Seeds?
Since red cabbage prefers cool to warm weather, I wanted to exploit springtime the most. Therefore, in the second half of March, I had bought pot soil and started the seeds in a tray. If you lack time to search for proper potting soil, I have already covered this topic so that you may take a quick look. Alternatively, you can make your soil. This recipe is intended for soil for tomatoes but will do the trick. Only switch to general fertilizer for cabbages, preferably 10:10:10.
With March approaching, take a prepared tray and fill it with soil. If the tray has compartments, one or two seeds per section are more than enough. If you have a crate or any other kind of container, make rows at least 2” separated. See that seeds are not too dense in one line; thinning out is not recommended for cabbages.
So, covering the seed with more soil is the next step. Water lightly, so that seeds can start growing right away. Few days are needed for sprouts to appear; in the meantime, look after temperature which should be at least 70 degrees. This is the minimum, but I was always aiming for at least 75 degrees. As for watering, misting is the best way to water the seeds in germinating process. It will not disturb them, nor cause any harm. Alternatively, you can try various creative ways of watering.
Is It Already Time For Transferring?
This is another question which can’t be answered universally. If everything was by the book, after 46 weeks, seedlings should be nicely developed, with a couple of healthy looking leaves. If this is the case, grab the trowel and a rope so that we can transfer them to the garden. By this time the temperature outside should settle already so that no late frost or sudden cold winds will ruin cabbages.
The length of the lines is not significant; I had to go with dimensions I had set before. What matters, however, is the space between each seedling. Take a measuring tape and dig a hole at every 20”. This will seem like an awful waste of space, especially when the seedlings are set, but it will eventually be filled with leaves and will be just right. Also, the spacing between rows should be at least 15”. I have also went with 20” so that I could walk between rows without stepping on a vegetable.
The hole should be at least 4” deep, but this is also approximate value. Estimate the size of the soil ball which goes with the seedling, it should fit and to have some spare space around. Next, when the seedling is set in the hole, add more soil around it, so it remains firm. My preference is to keep the watering bin close at hand, add soil, water, and add more dirt on top of it. This way the ground settles much better, without those ugly-looking lower sections which remain after watering.
Also, if it happens that seedlings look lifeless and dying, once they get water, everything will be all right.
How To Take Care Of Red Cabbage After Sowing?
For the next few weeks maintenance will be pretty straightforward. Keep the rows free from weed and look that no pests are present. These two are connected, however, since gardens with more weed tend to suffer from pests more. In any case, mulching is an excellent way to keep the moist from evaporating and is also useful in keeping the weed at bay. Straw is among my favorite mulching materials, so I can recommend it.
If the weather is not working to your favor, and the soil begins to dry, you will have to compensate the usual 1.5” of water. Setting a sprinkler will make things a lot easier, primarily since they can cover a vast area. Just keep in mind that watering should be done in the evening or early in the morning.
As for fertilizer, nitrogen-rich ones keep the green parts of the plant, such as leaves and stems. This is what cabbage needs. If you see that your plants lack energy, give it one shot of fertilizer rich in this element. However, do not exaggerate, too much nitrogen can cause the head to split, and such cabbage is more susceptible to diseases and pests.
How Should I Harvest And Store Red Cabbage?
The best thing about growing red cabbage is that there are no deadlines or specific values when it comes to harvesting. You will have to rely on your feeling, which will lead you to gather overall experience in gardening. Once the head of the cabbage is firm to touch, it is ready for harvesting. However, make a few rounds between rows; if you see any split heads, harvest and use those first.
Too much water and fertilizer can cause the head to split. Luckily, if you transferred seedlings in March or April, this usually means that you can expect harvesting to be in August or September. This is the time when heavy raining is not typical, but keep a close look at the weather forecast.
Harvesting red cabbage is relatively straightforward; take a sharp knife and cut the head above the stem. The outer leaves are left and usually aren’t edible. If you didn’t remove the stem from the ground, new sprouts might appear after a while. I suggest you to harvest those as soon as possible.
As for storing, there are several approaches. If left in the refrigerator, red cabbage can last about a week before spoiling. On the other hand, you can always make pickled red cabbage. The taste, however, tends to be a bit stronger, so I suggest to make a trial first, before wide-scale making.
Are There Any Pests Which Can Ruin My Day?
Since cabbage contains a high amount of water, they attract many pests. The most prominent one is, of course, the Cabbage moth. These little brown guys can wreak havoc in a matter of days, so it is of utmost importance to keep the garden free of weed. Also, white cabbage butterfly seems innocent and even cute, but it will also cause significant damage. Row covers are a great defense against both of those kinds.
As for diseases, most common kinds may include black rot, clubroot, and downy mildew. There are several solutions for downy mildew, but unfortunately, nothing is universal for all of those. Immediate removing of infected plants might reduce the spread of these microorganisms.
So, with everything stated above, it seems that red cabbage is not that demanding when it comes to maintenance. As I said, learning how to grow red cabbage will make you a better gardener overall. Some situations might appear with other vegetables, so you will be ready to intervene.
As always, feel free to leave comment, advice or opinion in the comment section below.