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When to Plant Cabbage
As a cool-season crop, cabbage grows best in temperatures between 45 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (during the spring and fall in most regions of the United States).
Most gardeners plant cabbage in early spring or late summer for the best weather window. Plant cabbage varieties according to the weather in your area, to ensure that your plants will have the appropriate temperature throughout its growing season (how long it will take to come to harvest).
How to Plant Cabbage
Cabbage is best started indoors, where the young plants have time to grow in mild conditions, away from pests like cutworms, cabbage worms, and birds.
- Prepare the soil. The most important thing for cabbage soil is that it can retain moisture to keep them well-watered. For the best results, prepare soil that is high in organic matter, like aged manure or compost. A soil pH of between 6.5 and 6.8 will be best to help avoid diseases like clubroot. Since cabbage does best when you start seeds indoors, make sure that you prepare pots or indoor seedbeds as well as an outdoor vegetable garden bed for transplanting.
- Plant the seeds. Cabbage seeds should be planted a half-inch deep in pots or indoor seedbeds, spaced only about an inch apart (you’ll thin the plants later when transplanting).
- Water. After planting cabbage seeds, water thoroughly. Keep the soil moist (but not too wet) as they grow.
- Transplant. In four to six weeks, the cabbage seedlings should have four or five leaves. Now it’s time to transplant them to the garden, preferably in a spot that is either full sun or partial shade, that maintains a temperature between 45 and 75 degrees. Plant each seedling in your prepared bed, burying the plant just up to the roots. Each plant should be spaced about eighteen inches apart, and each row should have at least twenty-four inches of space between them. Organic mulch is a great choice on top of the soil—it will help retain moisture and keep the soil cool.
How to Care for Cabbage
Cabbage isn’t a particular plant, so you’ll just need to follow some basic care tips to keep it happy:
- Give it plenty of water. Since they have shallow root systems, cabbage needs more consistent soil moisture than other common homegrown vegetables, so make sure to keep the soil moist. If you don’t keep watering consistent, cabbage heads may “split,” a unique problem in which their roots absorb water too quickly (usually during heavy rain after a drought), causing the head of the cabbage to split open. To combat splitting, keep your watering schedule consistent, and even consider cutting back slightly on watering once the plants reach maturity. Mulch is another great way to keep soil moist.
- Keep it cool. The trick to growing cabbage is to keep it at the right temperature—too cold and it will die, too hot and it will bolt (produce a tall flower stalk) and taste bitter. If your garden is getting too cold at night, protect the plants with row covers; if your cabbage is seeing too much hot weather and bolting, prop up shade cloth to keep the sun off the leaves.
- Take care of pests. Cabbage can be vulnerable to a wide variety of pests, including aphids, cabbage moths, root maggots, and cabbage loopers. Many insect pests can be deterred if you plant aromatic herbs like rosemary or sage as “barrier plants” alongside your cabbage.
- Be sure it has nutrients. Cabbage plants are a heavy feeders, which means they do best in fertile soil with lots of nutrients. For best results, fertilize it every two or three weeks with fish emulsion, or spread a slow-release organic fertilizer when planting.
How to Harvest Cabbage
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When the heads of cabbage are large and firm, it’s time to harvest—this can come anywhere from two to five months from planting, depending on the variety of cabbage. Harvesting cabbage is a simple process:
- Spread the wide outer leaves from the head of the cabbage. To harvest, you’ll take the head and leave the outer leaves, so find the separation point between the leaves and the head.
- Cut the head out of the center. Using a large knife, cut the head of cabbage away from the rest of the plant. Immediately put the head in a cool place to avoid wilting.
- Remove the entire plant from the ground. After you’ve harvested the head, pull up the rest of the plant and discard. However, if you’re harvesting early in the season and the cabbage variety is quick-growing, the plant may have enough time to produce another head of cabbage; consider the growing time for your area before removing.
Cabbage can last up to two months in the refrigerator. When storing, do not remove the outer cabbage leaves from the head, but store the head whole to protect the tender core.
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