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.
Cabbage is easy to grow if you select suitable varieties and practice proper culture and insect management. Always regarded as a good source of vitamins, cabbage recently has been shown to have disease-preventive properties as well.
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. Varieties that mature later usually grow larger heads and are more suitable for making sauerkraut than the early varieties. All the varieties listed here are resistant to fusarium wilt ("yellows") unless otherwise indicated. All are hybrid varieties unless marked OP, for open-pollinated variety.
Cheers (75 days to harvest; solid round heads; tolerant to black rot and thrips)
Early Jersey Wakefield (OP - 63 days; pointed heads; stands well; resists splitting)
King Cole (74 days; large; firm; extremely uniform heads)
Savoy King (85 days to harvest; dark, green color; very uniform)
Savoy Queen (88 days; 5 pounds; deep green color; good heat tolerance)
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)
When To Plant
Transplant early cabbage soon enough that it matures before the heat of summer. Many varieties are available and two or three varieties with different maturities can provide harvest over a long period. Hardened plants are tolerant of frosts and can be planted among the earliest of cool-season garden vegetables. Cabbage is easily transplanted from either bare-root or cell-pack-grown plants. Late cabbage must be started during the heat of mid-summer, but it develops its main head during the cooling weather of fall. It may be transplanted or seeded directly in the garden. In summer, if possible, place seed flats or seedbeds where some protection from the sun is available, either natural or artificial. Try especially hard during this season to transplant on cloudy, overcast or rainy days for minimizing shock from the direct sun of summer.
Spacing & Depth
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. Early varieties are usually planted 12 inches apart in all directions. Early varieties produce 1 to 3 pound heads and later varieties produce 4 to 8 pound heads. Sow cabbage seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Keep the seeds moist and thin or transplant the seedlings to the desired spacing. The plants removed may be transplanted to another row or flat.
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 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. The exposed internal tissue soon becomes unusable. Harvest and salvage split heads as soon as possible after they are discovered.
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.
Yellow or fusarium wilt is a relatively common disease that causes the leaves of plants to wilt and die. The first sign of the disease is yellowing and browning of the lower leaves. The plants are stunted before wilting occurs. Grow yellows-resistant (YR) or yellows-tolerant varieties. Most modern hybrids have this tolerance or resistance bred into them.
Blackleg and black rot are two diseases that cause severe losses. The plants may be stunted, turn yellow and die. Blackleg is named for the black cankers on the stem. The taproot often rots away. Black rot can be recognized by large, V-shaped, yellow-to-brown areas in the leaves, starting at the leaf edge. The veins turn black. Soft rot usually follows black-rot infection.
Control is essentially the same for blackleg and black rot. Both diseases are spread by seed, transplants and insects. Buy seed that has been hot-water treated to kill the disease organisms. Do not buy transplants that are wilted, are an unhealthy shade of green, or have black spots on the stems or leaves.
When you find diseased plants in the garden, collect the leaves, stems and tops; and burn or dispose of them. Do not put diseased plants into the compost pile. Avoid cultural practices (crowding, overwatering, planting in poorly drained soil and inadequate insect control) that support the disease organisms of black rot and blackleg. If possible, grow black-rot-resistant varieties.
Questions & Answers
Q. What can I do to prevent my cabbage heads from splitting?
A. Splitting is caused by the pressure of excessive water taken up after the heads are solid. Cutting the roots (spading on two sides of the plant) or breaking the roots (lifting and twisting the head to one side) can often reduce excessive splitting or bursting, but it also damages the plant and requires that the head be harvested relatively soon.
Q. What causes cabbage to develop seedstalks rather than solid heads?
A. Cabbage plants "bolt" (form premature seedstalks) when they are exposed to low temperatures (35 to 45 degrees F) for extended periods. Such chilling may happen if plants are set out too early or if an unseasonable blast of cold assaults the garden. After the plants have stems as large as a pencil, they are subject to this "cold conditioning," that initiates the flowering response.
Q. What is flowering cabbage?
A. Nonheading varieties of cabbage (similar to flowering kale) have been developed for ornamental uses. They have colorful white, pink or red rosettes of leaves surrounded by green or purple outer leaves. Most colorful during cool fall weather, they should be started in early summer to midsummer and set out with fall and winter plantings of regular, heading varieties of cabbage. Flowering cabbage (and flowering kale) are edible as well as ornamental.
Q. Why do butterflies fly around my cabbage plants?
A. Those butterflies (white or brown) are probably the moths of cabbage worms. They lay eggs on the plants. The eggs hatch into the worms that cause considerable damage unless controlled. Most control strategies are aimed at the developing larvae rather than the mature moths themselves.
Q. What causes large, lumpy swellings of my cabbage roots? The plants also are stunted.
A. Swellings and distorted roots on stunted, wilted plants may be symptoms of clubroot disease. This disease is caused by a fungus that remains in the garden soils for many years once it becomes established. It is spread by movement of infested soil and infected transplants. Other related cole crops (like broccoli and cauliflower) also may become infected. If you suspect that you have clubroot disease in your garden, ask your local Extension office for help. If, in fact, you have clubroot in a location, destroy infected plant parts (including the roots) and for at least 4 years avoid planting any member of the cabbage family there, including radishes, turnips and ornamental relatives of cabbage.
Selection & Storage
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.
Green cabbage — Green cabbage is 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 within a few days. Cabbage that you plan to cook can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
Savoy cabbage — Crinkly, with waves of blue-green leaves, Savoy cabbage is a beautiful sight growing in the garden. These thin, richly flavored leaves are ideal served raw in salads or cooked. Cooked Savoys do not have the strong sulfur odor of green cabbage. Savoy only keep for about 4 days in the refrigerator so buy it when you plan to use it.
Red cabbage — This variety is usually smaller and denser than heads of green cabbage. The flavor 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.
Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
There are literally hundred of varieties of cabbage. The most popular varieties in the United States are green cabbage and bok choy. 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 fiber. Other substantial nutrients in a half cup cooked cabbage include the following.
Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked green cabbage)
Dietary fiber 2.9 grams
Carbohydrates 3.6 mg
Vitamin C 18.2 mg
Preparation & Serving
Cabbage is king of the cruciferous vegetable family. Sadly, many think of cabbage as an odoriferous and unpleasant vegetable. Cooked cabbage has been wrongfully accused of smelling-up kitchens and hallways everywhere. But don't blame the cabbage, blame the cook. The notorious odor problem is a result of over cooking. Cabbage contains isothiocynates that break down into smelly sulfur compounds during cooking. The reaction is even stronger in aluminum pans. The longer the cabbage is cooked the more smelly the compounds become. The solution; a brief cooking time. Cook just until tender and use stainless steel pots and pans.
There is another adverse effect associated with cabbage — gas. Bacteria that live naturally in the intestinal tract degrade the dietary fiber (indigestible carbohydrates) in cabbage, producing gas that some find distressing. In spite of this unpopular side effect, cabbage offers huge benefits that cannot be ignored.
One medium head (2-1/2 pounds) of green cabbage yields 9 cups shredded raw and 7 cups cooked. The top portion of the cabbage head is more tender and shreds easier than the bottom. If it is practical, cut the head horizontal and use the top, raw in salads and slaw and use the bottom half in cooked recipes.
The most popular and successful method of preserving cabbage is pickling. Kimchee and sauerkraut are fermented, pickled products which take days to make. Both are made by immersing shredded cabbage in a salt solution strong enough to kill off pathogens while allowing beneficial bacteria to grow. Follow the instructions precisely. If too little salt is used, the cabbage spoils; too much salt prevents fermentation.
Cabbage flavor is compatible with many herbs and spices. Steamed cabbage can be seasoned with anise, basil, caraway and celery seeds, dill, mustard, fennel, nutmeg, oregano, black pepper, savory and tarragon.
Braised Green Cabbage with Garden Vegetables
If you are lucky, the cabbage, green bell peppers and onions will all come from your garden. This recipe can be cut in half by using only half a head of cabbage.
- 1 head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 lbs), shredded
- 1 medium onion, chopped or 4 green onions chopped with green tops
- 1 medium bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil or peanut oil
- 1 cup water or chicken stock
- salt and pepper to taste
Have all ingredients ready before you start to cook. Remove any decaying outer leaves and wash cabbage; remove core. Remove dark green leaves, cut away tough ribs, roll together into a scroll and cut across into thin shreds. Set aside. Cut cabbage into quarters and shred thinly. Set aside separate from dark green outer leaves. Chop onions and bell pepper and set aside. Peel and smash garlic cloves with side of knife, chop coarsely, set aside.
Use a large (5 quart) stainless steel Dutch oven or pan with lid or use a nonstick surface wok. Heat pan over medium high heat for a few seconds until hot. Add oil to hot pan, immediately add onions and bell peppers and stir for about one minute. Add shredded dark green cabbage, stir for another 30 seconds. Add crushed red pepper and garlic, continue to cook and stir for 15 seconds. Do not allow garlic to brown. Add two handfuls of cabbage stirring for about 30 seconds, continue adding cabbage and stirring at 30 second intervals until all of the cabbage is in the pot. Add water or chicken stock, cover immediately and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking. Add more water if necessary. When cabbage is done, almost all of the liquid will have cooked away.
Makes six servings.
Savoy Slaw with Buttermilk Dressing
This slaw can be made using all green cabbage or any combination of green, red and Savoy.
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise or low fat mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons grainy mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
Combine all ingredients in a pint size jar or small bowl and refrigerate. The dressing can be prepared up to three days in advance.
- 9 cups Savoy cabbage, thinly shredded
- 1 cup red cabbage, thinly shredded
- 1/2 cup grated carrots
- 2 scallions, chopped include green tops
Mix vegetables together in a large bowl. Toss with hands. Add dressing, toss using two spoons, refrigerate. Makes six servings.