Growing cabbage is one of the great traditions on allotments. Cabbage is a hardy, nutritious, delicious, and beautiful vegetable.
It is possible to grow cabbage on an allotment that are almost beast like in size and full of health and vigour. And growing cabbage has many health benefits as it has wonderful nutritional properties, being high in vitamins B,C, and E. Cabbage is claimed to help reduce stress, boost metabolism, and contribute to overall health and well being.
- From February to September
- Planting depth: 1.5 cm
- Planting spacing: 45 cm between plants and rows
- March to December
- Eat fresh. Select different varieties to extend harvest season.
Cabbage is part of the brassica family that also contains Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. It is thought cabbage originates from the Mediterranean region and was developed by farmers from naturally growing wild sea cabbage or wild mustard plant. People grow cabbage across the world with the most cabbage consumed in China, India, and Russia.
The basic preparation for planting cabbages is very similar whatever cabbage variety is being grown:
- Cabbages grow less well in acid soil, preferring a neutral soil with ph 7.0 or around. If a soil testing kit shows you have acidic soil, you may consider adding lime in late winter before preparing the cabbage patch. I have not tested my soil and my cabbages still grow well. You may elect to see how your first crop of cabbages grows, and then investigate further with a soil testing kit if you are disappointed with the results.
- Cabbages like a rich, well prepared and dug soil. Like most things that grow big, cabbages are hungry, so the more well rotted manure or compost that can be added to the soil the better. The reward is a bigger harvest.
- Start cabbages in a seed bed or seed tray with a plan to transplant. I prefer this to planting in situ and then thining as the transplanting process allows the opportunity for getting the spacing and protection of the plants exactly as required. Cabbage roots do not like being disturbed, so care is needed to ensure the miminum disturbance to the root ball. Also, it’s important to ensure that newly relocated seedlings are watered regularly to establish themselves.
When transplanting cabbages this is an ideal time to place ‘collars’ around their base to deter root fly. I do not do this. Instead, I prefer to plant my cabbages through weed guard. This helps to minimise weeding – cabbages are relatively slow growing and hence weeding is required – but it may provide some defence against cabbage root fly too.
Allow plenty of space between cabbages to encourage strong growth.
Give cabbages a good dousing of water regularly. Cabbages can bolt in hot weather. Also, healthy plants grow bigger leaves and heads. They are also more resistant to pests. Watering once a week in dry spells is a minimum.
If you think your cabbage leaves have been eaten, then they probably have! Underneath the cabbage leaves you are likely to find caterpillars which you can remove by hand.
Use a net. A really fine net may prevent butterflies laying their eggs near your cabbages. A wider gauge mesh (cheaper to buy) will protect against birds. Cabbage leaves are delicious to birds, so if you want to protect your hard work, some kind of net is essential.
Rotate the location of your cabbages each year. This is best practice for all vegetable growing anyway, but is particularly important at the allotment where it is likely cabbages have been grown for years, with the associated build up of potential pests and diseases.
You can grow cabbage all year round and there are many different types, colours, and shapes. The types of cabbage range from white flesh varieties to red and purple, and from large loose leaved varieties, to pointed and large ball types.
Perhaps the most important distinction is the time of year different cabbage varieties are grown to be harvested.
The large range and variety of cabbage types can be confusing. My current preference is to concentrate on growing winter cabbages. My thinking is that summer cabbages occupy space that can be used for faster growing salad crops, and spring cabbages seem a higher risk to grow. Whatever you decide to grow, I would also recommend looking out for F1 varieties to help with germination rates and to provide stronger plants with greater resistance to bolting.
Typically spring cabbages are of the loose leaf type and they are also referred to as spring greens. Germination should start around July before moving them into a cabbage patch. Care is needed to ensure that they do not mature too early in autumn, or alternatively are too small to survive the onset of winter. One way of mitigating the risk is to sow seedlings in batches two weeks apart.
These are typically pointed or ball head cabbage varieties. They are best started early under cover in February ready for planting out in March or April. As these varieties need to develop their fleshy leaves through the summer months it is essential to provide them with sufficient water.
The famous savoy type cabbages are ideal for winter harvesting. My recommendation is to start them in a seed bed / tray in April or May for transplanting to their final destination when they have matured to show two full adult leaves. Transplanting the seedlings provides the opportunity to give them the correct spacing and protection.