Tips For Growing Cabbage

Related to broccoli, cabbage is one vegetable that thrives in cooler temperatures.

Tips for Growing Cabbage

Native to the Mediterranean region of the world, cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) has been cultivated for use as a vegetable for thousands of years. Cabbage is referred to as a head of cabbage. Heads of cabbage are actually tightly compacted leaves. Heads are typically round, but may be large or small depending on the variety. Most cabbages have smooth thick leaves, although the Savoy variety has crinkled leaves.

Cabbage is eaten fresh as coleslaw, boiled and used to make stuffed cabbage leaves or eaten with corned beef a potatoes. It is also fermented and pickled to make sauerkraut. Cabbage leaves, which are typically a light to medium green color, are low in fat, and high in fiber, protein, vitamins A, C, B6, and K, and folic acid. They have medicinal properties as well and are used by breastfeeding mothers to help reduce engorgement.

Cabbage Basics

Cabbages are members of the Cruciferae or mustard plant family, the same botanical family as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussel sprouts. Cabbage cultivars are red, purple, or more commonly green. Cabbage consisting of a terminal stem and densely packed leaves, is actually a biennial with a life cycle of two years; however, it is grown and harvested as an annual.

Cabbage is a cool season crop, and thrives in cooler temperatures. Hot and humid conditions will cause cabbage to rot. Subsequently, it is one of the earliest crops that can be planted in the spring, but not too early. Cabbage plants will survive a hard frost but not a freeze. Several days or nights of colder temperatures will cause cabbage plants to produce an elongated terminal stem, a condition known as bolting that eventually produces a seed head.


Early crop cabbages are planted in early spring and harvested before the peak heat of summer. Late crop cabbages are planted mid-summer and harvested in the fall. Cabbage plants are grown from seed. When buying cabbage seeds make sure they are resistant to yellow wilt. If you buy transplants make sure there are no black spots or wilted leaves. Cabbage should not be planted where another member of the mustard family has been growing within the past two years.

If grown from seed outdoors, sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep and three inches apart. Seeds will germinate in one to two weeks. Warm days and cool nights are ideal for seedling germination and development. When the seedlings emerge, thin them to one-foot centers.

Growing seeds inside the house and then transplanting them outside also works well. Cabbage seeds are typically sown about 6 weeks before the last anticipated frost occurs and transplanted to the garden a few weeks before the last frost is anticipated and about 4 to 6 weeks after germinating. Plant early crop cabbages on 12†centers and leave at least 24 inches between the rows. Late crop cabbages produce larger heads so allow 36†between rows. An all-purpose fertilizer can be used when transplanting.

Cabbage prefers full sun and moist well-drained soil rich in organic matter such as compost or manure. Water transplanted cabbage frequently, but do not let the soil remain saturated. Keep the soil cool using mulch straw. When the head start to form mound the earth up against the stems to help stabilize the plants.

Harvesting and Storage

Harvest the heads when they are large, solid and firm to the touch, usually about 2 to 3 months after planting, depending on the variety. Remove loose or yellow leaves from the heads and store under cool conditions--32 degrees Fahrenheit with 100% humidity is ideal. Late crop cabbage can be stored for 5 to 6 months. Early crop cabbages have a shorter storage time, typically only a month.

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