Suited for both spring and fall, cabbage is a cool-season vegetable. This hardy, leafy plant can be difficult to grow for a new gardener if you don’t have the right conditions. Cabbages only like cool temperatures and can attract a variety of garden pests. By rotating the cabbage crop every few years, it can avoid the buildup of soilborne diseases.
Planting and Growing Information:
If you will be starting seeds indoors, sow ¼ inch deep 6 to 8 weeks before the last summer frost. For a fall harvest, directly sow seeds outdoors (or plant transplants) in mid to late summer. If you live in a particularly hot or dry area, wait to plant until late summer. It’s important to make sure that young plants don’t dry out in the summer sun’s heat. Given cabbage is a heavy feeder, it quickly depletes the soil of required nutrients. Soil should be well-draining and have a neutral pH (roots that stand in water result in the splitting and rotting of the heads). Prior to planting the seedlings outdoors, over the course of the week, harden off the plants. 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date, be sure to transplant small plants outdoors on a cloudy afternoon. Depending on the size of the head desired, plant seedlings 12 to 24 inches apart in rows—the closer you plant, the smaller the cabbage heads.
When seedlings each to be about 5 inches tall, thin to leave the desired space between them. Should you want to, you can transplant the thinned seedlings elsewhere. Make sure to mulch thickly around the area to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature, as well as water 2 inches per square foot per week. The ideal soil temperature to achieve growth is 60 to 65°F. Young plants that are exposed to temperatures below 45°F for a period of time may bolt or form loose ends. Be sure to cover plants if cold weather is expected.
Prepare the soil in advance by mixing in aged manure and/or compost. Fertilize 2 weeks after transplanting with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer. Add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer 3 weeks later (cabbage requires nitrogen in the early stages).
Be sure to harvest when heads reach the desired size and are firm. If mature heads are left on the stem, it may result in splitting. Most green cabbage varieties mature in about 70 days and most produce 1–3-pound heads. To harvest, cut each cabbage head at its base with a sharp knife. Remove any yellow leaves (retain loose green leaves as they provide protection in storage) and promptly bring the head indoors or place it in shade. An alternative method would be pulling up the plant (roots and all) and hanging it in a moist cellar that reaches near-freezing temperatures. To get two crops, cut the cabbage head out of the plant and leave the outer leaves and root in the garden. The plant will set up new heads. Pinch off the heads until only four or so smaller heads remain. Harvest when they are tennis ball-sized. After completing harvesting, remove the entire stem and root system from the soil to prevent disease. Only compost healthy plants and make sure to destroy any with maggot infestation.