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Curious about Cabbage?

By Melanie Mathieson
Gardening Guru

There are literally hundreds of varieties of cabbage. The most popular in Canada are green cabbage and savoy varieties. As with broccoli, cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable and may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer including colorectal cancers. Cabbage is also high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and fibre.
Cabbage is easy to grow if you select a suitable variety for our growing zone. A variety with 80 days or less to maturity will work best in our region. Finding seed for a variety like this may take some searching through our local suppliers or seed catalogues.
Cabbage is a hardy vegetable that grows especially well in fertile soils. There are various shades of green available, as well as red or purple types. Head shape varies from the standard round to flattened or pointed. Most varieties have smooth leaves, but the savoy types have crinkly textured leaves.
Green cabbage is grown more often than the red or savoy types, but red cabbage has become increasingly popular for color in salads and cooked dishes. The savoy varieties are grown for slaw and salads and often a staple in Asian recipes. Varieties that mature later usually grow larger heads and are more suitable for making sauerkraut than the early varieties. Some seed varieties on the market are now resistant to fusarium wilt (“yellows”) so check the seed packet. If you can, you will want to get a variety with this resistance to wilt.
To get the most of the variety you choose to plant you need to start the cabbage indoors ahead of the growing season. The back of the seed package will recommend the timing for this. Keep in mind that you want to transplant cabbage soon enough that it starts to mature before the heat of summer. Plant the transplants in the garden as soon as the danger of frost is over. It is especially helpful to transplant on a cloudy, overcast or rainy day in order to minimize shock from the direct sun.
Space plants 12 to 24 inches apart in the row, depending upon the variety and the size of head desired, the closer the spacing, the smaller the heads. Most varieties are usually planted 12 inches apart in all directions. Early maturing varieties produce 1 to 3 pound heads and later maturing varieties produce 4 to 8 pound heads. Use starter fertilizer when transplanting and side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown. Cultivate shallowly to keep down weeds. Ample soil moisture is necessary throughout the growing season to produce good cabbage. Irrigation is especially important in fall plantings to help the young plants withstand the intense sunlight and heat of summer and to supply the developing heads with sufficient water to develop quickly.
Cabbage can be harvested anytime after the heads form. For the highest yield, cut the cabbage heads when they are solid (firm to hand pressure) but before they crack or split. When heads are mature, a sudden heavy rain may cause heads to crack or split wide open so do not wait to harvest. The exposed internal tissue will soon become unusable if they split so harvest and salvage split heads as soon as possible after they are discovered. To harvest large, unsplit heads of green cabbage, look for tight, heavy heads, free of insects and decay. Fresh, uncut heads of cabbage can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Cover loosely with a plastic bag or use perforated bags. Do not wash cabbage before storing, the extra moisture will hasten deterioration.
In addition to harvesting the mature heads of the cabbage planted in the spring, you can harvest a later crop of small heads (cabbage sprouts). These sprouts develop on the stumps of the cut stems. Cut as close to the lower surface of the head as possible, leaving the loose outer leaves intact. Buds that grow in the axils of these leaves (the angle between the base of the leaf and the stem above it) later form sprouts. The sprouts develop to 2 to 4 inches in diameter and should be picked when firm. Continue control of cabbage worms and other pests. If this control cannot be maintained, remove and destroy or compost the stumps, because they serve as a breeding ground for diseases and insect pests.
Below are some suitable varieties for our region. Check your local supplier or seed catalogue for them.
Green Cabbage - sometimes called Dutch White. The outer leaves are dark green and the inner leaves are smooth and pale to medium green. If you plan to eat the cabbage raw use it within a few days. Cabbage that you plan to cook can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
Cheers - 75 days to harvest; solid round heads; tolerant to black rot and thrips.
Early Jersey Wakefield - 63 days; pointed heads; stands well; resists splitting.
King Cole - 74 days; large; firm; extremely uniform heads.
Savoy Cabbage - Crinkly, with waves of blue-green leaves. Savoy cabbage is a beautiful sight growing in the garden. These thin, richly flavoured leaves are ideal served raw in salads or cooked. Cooked savoys do not have the strong sulphur odour of green cabbage. Savoy varieties only keep for about 4 days in the refrigerator so buy it when you plan to use it.
Savoy King - 85 days to harvest; dark, green color; very uniform.
Savoy Queen - 88 days; up to 5 pounds; deep green color; good heat tolerance.
Red Cabbage - usually smaller and denser than heads of green cabbage. The flavour of red cabbage is slightly peppery and it is very susceptible to color change. Cook red cabbage with vinegar (or other acidic ingredient) or it will turn an ugly blue-gray color. Always use stainless steel knives and cookware when preparing red cabbage to prevent color changes.
Red Meteor - 75 days to harvest; firm; good for all seasons.
Ruby Ball -71 days; 4 pounds; slow to burst; resists both cold and heat.