World cabbage day is celebrated today, 17th February and in the words of another who is also intrigued by this day “it is a day when the pleasure and simplicity of the cabbage is celebrated”. So in celebration of this family favourite vegetable the humble cabbage gets the spotlight treatment.
Before I really took an interest in growing fruit and vegetables, I didn’t really give a lot of thought to when you would plant the seeds for the various types of vegetables. It also never dawned on me that the sowing of these said vegetables would be done at different times of the year dependent on the season of harvest. Spring, summer and winter cabbages all get sowed and harvested at various times of the year, as the season description for the cabbage would denote. It took me a while to get my head around when each of these should be sowed. Sowing different varieties dependent on the season allow for a succession of crops throughout the year. To make it easier for me to know when each variety need my attention at their various sowing and harvesting times, I designed a simple table that I leave with my cabbage seeds.
Cabbages are a member of the Brassica family that also includes sprouts, cauliflower, kale and turnips. They are either conical shaped, otherwise known as pointed, round heads or drum heads (round with a flattened top). They can range in colour from dark and light green to pink and purple. They can be harvested as whole heads or loose leafed in the form of spring greens. Red cabbages are traditionally grown during the Autumn for harvesting around Christmas and are predominately grown for pickling. Savoy cabbages are round with dark green or red crinkly leaves and are very hardy.
Cabbages are probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow provided you do a little research into the type of soil conditions that they like. Cabbages like a sunny, open position with alkaline soil. Many allotmenteers add a sprinkling of lime to their soil where their brassicas are to grow a few weeks before sowing. Some types of cabbage take a long time to reach full maturity and spend many months in the ground so it is well worthwhile taking this into consideration when decided which variety to grow.
Before sowing or planting any of the different types of cabbages, dig the ground and apply a top dressing of lime which needs to be raked gently into the soil. Cabbages like a really firm soil base. This can be achieved by treading the soil down really firmly and raking the top layer to a fine tilth to ensure that the roots have a really secure, firm base. See the table above for sowing times and planting distances.
Cabbages can be cut when their heads are really firm and fleshy. Cutting just the central head and leaving the stalk in the ground will enable you to get another crop. Leave the stalk in the ground after the main head has been harvested then cut an x into the top of the remaining stalk to encourage side shoots that can then be harvested as greens.
Spring greens can be harvested when there are sufficient leaves that you want. Remove all spent stalks from the ground after the cabbage crop has been harvested. They take a long time to break down in the compost heap due to their tough exterior so they are either best cut into smaller pieces or not added to the heap at all.
Pests and Problems
Cabbages suffer from a myriad of pests and problems. Aphids, white fly and caterpillars are the usual suspects. These can be prevented by checking the crops on a regular basis and covering with netting and possibly spraying with some homemade garlic spray. Pigeons can also devour cabbage plants if left unprotected.
One big problem that can occur with all brassicas is clubroot. This is a disease found in the soil that turns the roots into a swollen, gnarly mess and turns the leaves yellow preventing the plants from getting the correct nutrients from the soil. This prevents that plant from growing healthily, resulting in severely stunted growth and eventually the plant dies. Some people believe that diluted rhubarb leaf tea is a great deterrent for club root and I myself did try this method when I planted my Spring cabbage a few months back. I was also advised that it wouldn’t hurt to add a few small pieces of rhubarb leaves in the planting hole and I can say that so far, all looks good. Clubroot can be restricted by ensuring that the soil is well limed which improves the PH levels. Make sure that you burn all infected crops and do not plant brassica’s in the same position next season.
So hopefully, if we all follow the advice outlined above maybe we can grow some whoppers like this!