Brassica oleracea var. capitata
Cabbage is a cole crop, a member of the mustard family, Cruciferae. It is one of the oldest recorded vegetables, mentioned in literature 3,000 years ago.
• More detailed information can be found in The Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Book by Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing
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Cabbage was in general use 2,000 years ago throughout Europe and the Middle East.
WHEN TO PLANT
This cool-weather plant produces best in spring. Sow seed indoors under lights about 8 weeks before the frost-free date (average date of last frost), and set the plants into the garden about 6 weeks later. Transplants are often available at garden centers about that time as well; they should have a good green color, be short and compact, and have no pests. For the earliest production, you’ll want to start with transplants, whether homegrown or store bought. But if you prefer to sow seed directly in the garden, sow it as early as the soil can be worked. Since the cabbage will be harvested and out of the garden by early summer, plan for a fall crop as well. For a fall crop, sow seed indoors about mid-July, then set the seedlings in the garden in late August. Cabbage can tolerate a freeze, and with a mild fall it may last until Thanksgiving or later.
WHERE TO PLANT
Choose a location in full sun or partial shade (filtered sun all day or shade part of the day); 8 hours of sun would be a minimum. Cabbage prefers well-prepared soil with good drainage.
HOW TO PLANT
Apply a complete garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, at a rate of 1 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden. Spade or rototill the garden. (See “Soil Preparation” in the introduction to the vegetable garden.) In rows, space the transplants 12 to 18 inches apart, with 24 inches between rows. In a bed, space the plants 16 to 18 inches apart, which will allow 2 or 3 plants across the bed. Set the plants at the same depth they were growing. Water in the plants with transplant starter fertilizer, such as 10-52-17 or 10-30-10, mixed according to directions on the label, and apply approximately 1 cup per plant. If root maggots have been a problem in the past and your previous crops have suffered damage, also mix an approved garden insecticide in water according to label directions, and use it as a drench as transplants are watered in. Directly seed fall cabbage in midsummer. Sow seeds 3 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep, then thin seedlings to the proper spacing noted for transplants. (You can recognize cabbage seedlings because they will be in rows and all look the same; weed seedlings will be randomly spaced, and all will look different.) Transplant excess seedlings to another row if you prefer not to dispose of them.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
For the best-quality cabbage, water as necessary to keep the plants vigorous and growing. Plants need about 1 inch of water per week. Hardened-off plants will often crack as they develop, making them useless. Side-dress the plants with a complete fertilizer when they are about half grown. Pests and diseases may pose a problem. Prevent infestation of cabbage worms with a biological worm spray or dust, available at most garden centers. To avoid root and stem diseases, do not plant cabbage where broccoli, Brussel sprouts, or collards were in the past year.
Harvest the heads when they have achieved full size by cutting just below the heads with a sharp knife. If they are allowed to grow beyond maturity, the heads will crack, especially when the weather has been dry and suddenly becomes wet. Plants of some varieties will make a second crop of smaller heads similar to brussels sprouts if left in the garden following the first harvest. Homegrown cabbage has a sweet flavor that isn’t available in the cabbage at the supermarket. Picking it at the peak of perfection and using it when it is fresh preserve the flavor at its best. Try to make several plantings of cabbages with different maturity dates for a continuous supply. You may store fall-harvested cabbages for months at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator, but be sure to wrap them so they do not dry out.
Cabbages may be green or red, smooth or savoy (wrinkled). Heads may be pointed, round, or flat.
Days to Maturity
Resists cracking, early; 4 ponds
Slow to crack and stores well; 3 pounds
Cold tolerant; 3 pounds
AAS, earliest savoy; 3 to 4 pounds
Uniform dark green; 3 to 4 pounds
Heat tolerant; 5 pounds
Early; 3 to 4 pounds
Good nearly everywhere; 3 to 4 pounds; AAS
Early Jersey Wakefield
Pointed and resists cracking; 4 pounds
Good black rot resistance; 8-inch heads
Large, firm 8-pound heads
Resists cracking; 3 pounds
SMOOTH GREEN, FALL
Only 4 Pounds