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How to grow cabbages

Val Bourne / 05 February 2013

Find out how to grow cabbages for fresh winter produce.

Winter cabbage
Cabbages are best grown for fresh winter produce

Cabbages are easy to grow and when it comes to choosing varieties there's a cabbage for every month of the year and these leafy vegetables are very good for us. But who wants to eat a cabbage when there are runner beans, broad beans or fresh new peas to be had? Not me! So I advise you grow winter cabbages instead.

When to plant

All winter brassicas, including winter cabbages, should be sown in late spring. 

Where to plant

Brassicas tend to do well near the coast because they prefer sandy or light soil.

How to plant

Plant cabbage seeds into a well-prepared seed bed. Thin to 3 - 4 inches inches apart ( 7.5 cm) and once they have 5 or 6 true leaves plant them out, spacing them again 30 x 30  (75 x 75cm). Alternatively, plant in modular seed trays and plant out in June.

Water well until plants are established and make sure that you grow them in a different place in the following year. Operate a three- or four-year rotation scheme.

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When to feed

Ideally, feed the soil two months before planting by digging in garden compost. Feed again in June and September.

Pests and problems

The large cabbage white butterfly

The large cabbage white butterfly is the main problem for the gardener and all plants should be protected with fine netting from May onwards. This prevents the butterflies laying clusters of eggs on the young cabbages. Large meshed netting lets them through. 

However, if the mesh is too fine, almost like horticultural fleece, it will prevent summer rain from reaching your plants and this can be a real problem.  Our warmer winters also mean that caterpillars can persist into December. I spent Boxing Day picking them off my Purple sprouting!

Clubroot (Plasmodiophora brassicae)

On heavier, wet soil the cabbage family can suffer from clubroot. The root becomes swollen and misshapen the plants remain stunted.

Clubroot can be prevented by growing your own cabbage plants. If you do buy, only buy ones grown in trays. Bare-rooted plants bought in could already be infected. This fungal disease is more prevalent on damp soil because the spore is motile (moves in water) and many gardeners are never troubled by it.

If you do suffer, the effects can be kept to a minimum by moving the crop regularly. Eradicate all weeds that are members of the brassica family especially Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) - it may carry the infection. 

Recommended varieties

'Celtic' AGM

Celtic has firm heads with savoy-textured leaves - good to eat.

'Marabel' AGM

Marabel has dense round heads. It is a red-tinted green cabbage of the January King type.

Tundra F1 AGM

Tundra is a savoy ballhead cabbage cross that's very hardy and sweet.

Other brassicas to grow

The three winter brassicas I never do without are Brussels sprouts, curly kale and purple sprouting broccoli. 

The season begins with sprouts and there are early and late varieties. Both are sweet and delicious when really fresh and young cooked with squash, bacon and chestnuts. Among the best varieties are the early 'Bosworth' and the later 'Nelson' (both from Thomspon & Morgan). Always plant your Brussels out in firmed soil, to prevent these top heavy plants suffering from wind rock.

Curly Kale follows on and this is extremely hardy coming through any winter - however cold. The usual form is short and green, but there is a highly decorative red-leaved form called 'Redbor'. The 'Black Tuscan' Kale is also a delicious winter vegetable and very handsome.

Find out how to grow brassicas

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.