Tight-headed cabbages as well as open-hearted cabbages, such as kale and Asian greens, are all part of the Brassica family and they all enjoy similar growing conditions. These are possibly amongst the most nutritious of all vegetables to eat, and when you eat them fresh from the garden, you get the benefit of their maximum health-giving qualities. For lots of gardeners, a vegetable plot isn’t complete without that ever-dependable staple: the cabbage!
Shredded into a slaw, stir-fried, steamed or baked, there’s not much you can’t do with cabbage. And with a little planning it’s even possible to enjoy cabbages year-round, by planting a carefully curated succession of varieties suited to each season.
There are a multitude of Cabbage varieties out there now to choose from, they come in different shapes, size, colours and textures. The Cabbage head or heart can be round or conical, their leaves can be light green, dark green, red or purple. Some varieties have a smooth and almost glossy appearance, while others like the savoy cabbage varieties produce a deeply crinkled leaves that are perfect for mopping up gravies and sauces. Red and Purple varieties are popular for braising and pickling.
Cabbages are moderately easy to grow, they can be grown in most areas of Australia though prefer a cool climate and are best grown Autumn, Winter and Spring as well as Summer in cooler areas. The older the plant, the more tolerant they are to frosts. Provide the seedlings with some frost protection when necessary. As the growing season is much shorter in the tropics, heat tolerant varieties like sugar loaf, fast growing Asian varieties like Pak Choi and Wombok are the better options. Traditional European varieties are slow growing and need a long cool season to head properly. In Sub-tropical areas plant in April to take advantage of the 4 or 5 months of cooler weather. Protect from heat by shading the plants to extend the growing season.
Cabbages like full sun or at least 6 hours a day if possible and protect from strong wind. Like all Brassicas, cabbages love a rich, well drained soil to thrive. They are heavy feeders so add plenty of compost, well-rotted manure, incorporate some additional fertilizer, a bit of blood and bone and they also love some sulphate of potash. The ideal Ph for cabbages is 6.5 to 7.5 if your soil is acidic add some lime and water in as well.
Cabbages are easy to germinate from seeds, so this gives you a wide selection to choose from. Some gardeners like to raise seedlings in trays while others prefer to plant directly where they are to be grown. Plant in a well-prepared garden bed placing seeds twice as thick as required. Plant the seeds about 5mm deep, water and keep moist until the seeds have germinated. Thin out and transplant the ones that you don’t want.
For European varieties, plant 60 to 80cm apart, Chinese varieties 40 to 50cm apart, Kale 40 to 50cm apart and Pak Choi 20 to 30cm apart.
Cabbages love a feed, water regularly or they won’t be happy. Lightly fertilize about 3 weeks after planting then once a month till the end of the season.
Harvest hearting cabbages when the hearts are firm generally at 10 to 14 weeks, use a sharp knife to cut and remove the head deep into the plant , sometimes the plant may then give a you another head on the existing plant. Begin harvesting Kale as soon as the leaves are big enough, this encourages more leaves to grow. Remove the outer leaves first leaving some leaves behind, this allows the Kale plant to continue to grow.
Asian greens like Pak Choi and Bok Choy can be harvested at 6 weeks by either removing the whole plant, or just taking the older leaves to extend the life of the plant. Tatsoi (Chinese flat cabbage can also be harvested like kale by removing the older leaves for up to 6months during ideal growing seasons.
The above information is provided as a general guide only so be sure to research your local conditions for the best results in your area. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have or for general advice. And don't forget to sign up to our newsletter for more urban farming tips.