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Cabbage, a hardy biennial grown as an annual, has an enlarged terminal bud made of crowded and expanded overlapping leaves shaped into a head. The leaves are smooth or crinkled in shades of green or purple, and the head can be round, flat, or pointed. The stem is short and stubby, although it may grow to 20 inches if the plant is left to go to seed. Cabbage is a hardy vegetable that grows well in fertile soils, and it’s easy to grow in the home garden if you choose suitable varieties and follow correct pest control procedures. Like other members of the cabbage or cole family (broccoli and kale are among them), cabbage is a cool weather crop that can tolerate frosl but not heat.
Cabbages have four stages of growth:
(1) Rapid growth of leaves;
(2) Formation of the head (which is the part you eat);
(3) A resting period while the embryonic blossoms are being formed; and
(4) Development of the stalk, flowers, and seeds.
The head formation stage is essential for the production of the vegetable, but not at all necessary for the survival of the plant. Cabbages that are held in check by severe frost, lack of moisture, or too much heat will bolt, which means that they will go directly to seed without bothering to form a head at all. And even if the cabbage does make a head, if the weather gets too hot once it reaches that stage, the head can split.
Cabbages are decorative in the flower garden; purple cabbages and savoys look good in a mixed border. Flowering cabbages look like enormous variegated blossoms. In small spaces, grow cabbages as an accent in each corner of a flower bed or as a border. Decorative cabbages can be grown in containers on the patio or even indoors. Try growing a single cabbage in an eight-inch flowerpot; choose a flowering cabbage or a small early variety.
Site and soil
Cabbages prefer fertile, well-drained, moisture-retentive, but firm soil. Apply a base dressing of a general fertilizer when sowing or planting in spring and summer. Lime soil if necessary to raise the pH to deter clubroot
Sowing and planting
Sow either in a seedbed or in trays at the correct time of year for the type. To produce both spring greens and cabbages in the same bed, space the plants 4in (10cm) apart in rows 12in (30cm) apart. Use two out of each three for greens, and leave the third to heart up. Sow summer cabbages in succession for a continuous crop. The earliest transplants raised under cover should be hardened off carefully, or they may be liable to bolt. Covering them with fleece after planting out will reduce this risk and advance crops by 10–14 days. Winter cabbages should be sown in succession. Protect all seedlings and young transplants from cabbage root fly
Practice good weed control. Keep young plants well watered, if necessary, until they are established, then water only in very dry weather. Earth up the stems of spring and winter cabbages during the winter, and remove dead leaves regularly. Top-dress with a high-nitrogen fertilizer or organic liquid feed before the leaves touch across the rows, except in the case of fall-sown and planted crops; top-dress these in spring.
For greens, harvest young leaves as soon as they are large enough. Cut spring and summer hearting cabbages when the hearts are solid throughout. Stumps left in the ground may resprout to provide a small crop of greens, especially if a cross-cut is made across the surface of the cut stem. The hardier winter cabbages such as January King types can be left to stand in the ground for several months, to harvest as needed. Cut white or red cabbages for storing before there is any danger of hard frost, handling them carefully to avoid bruising. If stored in a net bag, cabbages should keep for 6–8 weeks.
Caterpillars, especially those of the cabbage white butterfly, can cause extensive crop damage.
Flea beetle may be troublesome in dry weather and sheltered spots.
Large colonies of mealy cabbage aphids can quickly establish, causing distorted foliage. Do not mistake them for whitefly; although this can be a conspicuous pest, it rarely causes significant damage, although in mild winters whitefly can persist on brassicas to affect other young plants in spring.
Other pests include cutworm, leather jackets, and slugs and snails. In addition to clubroot, brassicas are susceptible to leaf diseases such as downy mildew, and powdery mildew. Bacterial leaf spot and white blister are becoming more widespread problems. Plants grown well and fed correctly rarely suffer nutrient deficiencies. Hollow stems may indicate boron deficiency. Poor seedling growth can be the result of molybdenum deficiency.
Spring greens and spring cabbage
Dorado: short-stemmed, attractive dark blue-green, uniform, spring hearting cabbage.
Orient Express: Chinese cabbage variety that matures in 45 days from seed.
Ealiana: heads average 2lb (800g); good flavor.
First Early Market 218: fast-growing, wellfilled heads, for greens or hearts.
Jersey Wakefield: dense, cone-shaped head, with sweet flavor; short-stemmed and hearting.
Gonzales: crunchy and sweet, with a density and rich bite; successional or summer sowing.
Pyramid: old, dark-leaved cultivar, pointed heads; can also be grown for greens.
Early summer cabbage
Derby Day: Old favorite, round-headed.
Greyhound: Fast-growing, pointed heads.
Famosa: Inner leaves are tender and delicious flavor that gets sweeter as winter approaches.
Pyramid: Old-fashioned, dark-leaved, for overwintering or spring sowing
Kilaxy: white cabbage, suitable for storing, resistant to clubroot.
Stonehead: hybrid, stands well
Alcosa: Well-packed, interior leaves fill in quickly, good for close plantings of mini cabbages.
Danish Ballhead: Excellent all-arounder.
Deadon: Vigorous, green purple heads.
Famosa: Early maturing, good leaf color.
Wintessa: Reliable hybrid, stands well, dark, puckered leaves, very hardy.
Huzzaro: Strong, red storing cabbage.
Red Flare: Early sweet flavor, little core.