Grow Your Own

Cabbages

Cabbages come in different shapes, sizes and colours, and with a little planning it's possible to pick them fresh nearly every day of the year. They can be used raw in salad or coleslaw, and have many uses when cooked.

Cabbage

Grow

Transplant the young plants to their final growing position when plants have five or six true leaves, setting the lowest leaves at ground level. Water well the day before moving, firm in well after transplanting and ‘puddle’ in the plants with plenty of water (this means filling the hole with water several times before adding soil).

Plant compact varieties 30cm (1ft) apart, larger varieties up to 45cm (18in) apart. Plant spring cabbages just 10cm (4in) apart in rows 30cm (1ft) apart - thin out to 30cm (1ft) apart in late February/March.

If you puddle in your cabbages well at planting, they will need little water. In prolonged dry spells, a thorough soak every 10 days will be enough. When the heads begin to form, generous watering will greatly improve head size. Feed summer and winter cabbages with a high-nitrogen fertiliser before they get too big.

Problems

Cabbage root fly: Female flies lay eggs around the stems and the resulting larvae eat the roots; look out for wilting plants that produce reddish leaves.

Remedy: Grow plants through brassica collars – you can buy these, or make your own from discs of felt (7.5cm/3in) with a radial slit and position the discs on the soil at the base of the plant around the stem. You could also cover cabbages with fine netting, such as Enviromesh, which also prevents cabbage white butterfly and keeps pigeons at bay. Don’t grow cabbages in the same place as you grew them (or other brassicas) last year.

Read more information about cabbage root fly

Cabbage caterpillars: A number of caterpillars will feed on cabbages, but the most common are those of cabbage white butterflies. You will usually see the caterpillars, if not, you will see the holes they make in the leaves. They will also bore into the heart of cabbages.

Remedy: In mild attacks, or if you have only a few plants, you may be able to pick the caterpillars off. You can spray with pyrethrum or bifenthrin. But the best way is to prevent the butterflies laying eggs in the first place by covering the cabbages with fine netting, such as Enviromesh.

Read more information about cabbage caterpillars

Club root: This is a fungal disease causing stunted growth, purplish foliage and wilting in hot weather. The root system also becomes swollen and distorted. It is worse on acidic soils and in warm, wet weather.

Remedy: If you have acidic soil you should apply lime before you plant. Test soil acidity using a pH meter which you can buy from DIY stores, or garden centres. If the pH of your soil is less than pH6, it is acidic. Once you see the symptoms of club root, there is very little you can do.

Read more information on club root

Harvesting

Cabbages are harvested by cutting through the stem just above ground level with a sharp knife. Cut a 13mm (1/2in) deep cross in the stump of spring and summer cabbages and you'll be rewarded with a second crop of much smaller cabbages.

Recipes

Nigel Slater offers up this garlic, ginger and spring onion that come together in this Thai-style brassica stir-fry.

Varieties

Cabbages are divided into spring, summer and winter types. Spring cabbages grow over winter and are ready in April or May. Summer cabbages are ready from June through to October, and winter cabbages can be harvested throughout the coldest months.

‘Duncan’ AGM: A spring cabbage which produces a plentiful crop of small, pointed mid-green heads.

‘Kilaxy’: This summer cabbage has good club-root resistance and has tasty firm, compact heads ready from late summer to autumn.

‘Protovoy’ AGM: This is a winter Savoy cabbage with dark green outer leaves and solid hearts.

‘January King 3’: A winter cabbage with attractive red-tinged leaves. It stands well over winter.

Do now

  • Sow seed of summer and winter cabbage in trays or outdoors
  • Protect outdoors sowings

Month by month

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sow
Plant out
Harvest

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