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How to grow organic Cabbage
by Frann Leach
Savoy's wrinkled leaves can hold lots of gravy
Brassica oleracea Capitata group
Family: Cruciferae (Group 2)
Cabbage is traditionally served boiled to a pulp, losing most of its nutritional value in the process. But cooked lightly in just a small amount of boiling water, perhaps with onions or a few herbs, it is not only much tastier but also retains most of its vitamins. And the little wrinkles in Savoy cabbage can pick up lots of gravy or sauce. Most varieties are also good as a salad green.
This page covers Spring greens, Spring, Summer and Winter cabbage, whether green, white or red. Chinese cabbage is on a separate page, as are Abyssinian/Ethiopian cabbage and Warrigal cabbage, which is unrelated. Brief cultivation instructions for Jersey Walking Stick cabbage and Portuguese cabbage (Couve tronchuda) are given in the vegetable cultivation table.
Site and soil
Choose an open, unshaded site with fertile, well-drained and moisture retentive soil, which should be slightly acid (min pH 5.4, but see note on clubroot - add lime if necessary to adjust pH). Brassicas have a high nitrogen requirement and also need very firm soil. To ensure sufficient nutrient levels, it is best to topdress or apply a liquid feed such as seaweed fertiiser during growth.
Because brassicas are prone to soil infections, for example, Clubroot, it's important to use a minimum 3 year rotation plan.
Cultivation table to produce cabbage all year round
|Late Winter/Celtic Cross F1||May/June-July||Jan-Mar|
|Early Summer/Hispi F1||Jan-Feb under cover or March-April||May-June|
|Summer/Greyhound||early April direct||July|
|late April direct||August|
|mid May direct||September|
|Autumn/Winningstadt||late May direct||October|
Ideal pH 6.2-6.6
It is possible to produce cabbage all year round by careful choices of cultivars, as shown in the cropping chart. Specialist varieties as follows:
White Cabbage: "Dutch winter whites" sow late April for maturity October to November. Recommended cultivars Hidena F1, Polonius F1.
Red cabbage: Summer types - sow mid March, transplant early May 22cm by 45cm (9"x18") or 32cm each way (13"x13"). Matures July to August. Recommend cultivars Langedijk Red Early - Norma, Ruby Ball F1.
Autumn types - sow late April, transplant early June 50cm each way (20"x20"). Harvest October to November. Recommended cultivars Autoro F1, Hardoro F1.
Savoy cabbage: sow late May. Harvest October to January.
Sow in a seed bed unless soil is heavy, in which case use seed trays or modules to minimise root disturbance. Sow 2-2.5cm (¾-1") deep, spacing 7.5cm (3") apart in the row. Transplant at about 10cm (4") tall or when the first true leaves develop to follow legumes or onto a site which was manured the previous Autumn.
On light soils, plant into drills 8cm (3") wide by 10cm (4") deep and earth the plants up as they develop until the soil is level, otherwise on the flat. Plant firmly enough that pulling on a leaf results in it tearing. Use brassica collars to prevent root fly.
Outdoor sowings 2.5-5cm (1-2") deep x 15cm (6") between rows.
Spring cabbage 15cm by 37-60cm (6"x15-24") (for spring greens 10cm by 30cm (4"x12"), cut two out of three for greens, leave the rest to mature)
Summer cabbage 45cm by 60cm (18"x24")
Winter cabbage 30cm by 45cm (18"x12") for smaller heads, 60cm by 45cm (24"x18") for larger heads.
In general, the closer the spacing, the smaller the finished crop.
Water after transplanting and daily in dry weather for 3-4 weeks, about ¼ pint per plant.
Water up to 4 gallons per sq yard per week in dry weather. The minimum watering requirement is a single heavy watering 10-20 days before maturity.
Earth up winter varieties and remove rotten leaves regularly.
Harvest as crop matures. Spring and early summer varieties may be induced to produce secondary heads by cutting a cross in the top of the stem.
Pests and diseases
Cabbage caterpillars are the worst. Hand pick, spray with derris or use crop protection. An alternative is to use the predator Bacillus thuringiensis.
Soil may remain infected for 20 years; steps to avoid introduction include:
Once infected avoid growing any brassicas except fast maturing types such as Texsel greens or cut and come again oriental seedlings. If you have no other land available, and you must grow types with a lengthy growing season, you can try sowing seed in modules, and potting up until the plants reach a height of 10cm (4") before planting out. A root drench may also help.