The modern European cabbage is just one cultivar of the wild cabbage family, which was found around the North and West coasts of the Mediterranean, before domestication thousands of years ago.
Health benefits of cabbage include Sulphoraphone. This anti-cancer plant compound in cabbage and most other members of the cabbage family, for the most anti-cancer effect, requires that the enzyme “myrisubase” is not destroyed by cooking at high temperatures or for a long time. Steam instead for only 5 minutes or even eat raw. If there is a sulphurous smell in the kitchen, you have cooked it too long!!
Most of the Cabbages “head” or the hearts become ready for eating, in late Summer or Autumn. There are some varieties that will “head” during the Winter and Spring when there is not much else ready to pick. The Winter and Spring varieties have to be very hardy to survive the Winter and then spring into growth as soon as the weather warms up.
The ground should have been prepared well in advance to allow it to become quite firm and give the plants some stability to resist the wind. Dig in manure, if available, in the late Autumn in the preceding year.
Sow the seeds in March for Summer and Autumn “heading” varieties, or April for over wintering types in individual cells or pots in a cool greenhouse. In the North of the UK, transfer them to a cold frame in May and plant them out in their final positions in May or June, about 45 cm apart. In the South of the UK, you can try sowing the seed in April directly in a seed bed, before transplanting into their final positions in May or June. It is best to transplant your Cabbages on a dull, cloudy day and water the plants in well. If you try and transplant them on a hot, sunny day, they will loose so much moisture that they will droop through stress from lack of water. If you really have to transplant on a sunny day, try and provide some shading with netting or fleece.
Protect all plants immediately after planting. If you expect to have problems withcabbage root fly, fit collars made from a 15 cm square of old carpet underlay. Cut a slit in the underlay square, halfway through. Then fit it onto the Brassica with the stem in the middle of the underlay square. Sprinkle slug and snail pellets around the plants, or fit plastic tubes to prevent slug attack. Finnish off by erecting medium mesh netting, about 1 cm square, over and around the plants to fend off cabbage white butterflies. Using these physical protective measures to protect your plants, will eliminate the need for pesticides.
Regularly inspect the growing plants to make sure that no slugs, snails or cabbage white caterpillars have managed to get into your protective cage. If you spot an infestation of large aphids, either “squish” them or dislodge them with a hose or spray with a suitable pesticide. Water as necessary in hot weather in the evening.
When cutting the cabbage for eating, cut through the stem to leave the old lower leaves on the stem, and the plant will re-grow several smaller cabbages (see photo) before the end of the season.
Where the Cabbages have over wintered, they will eventually develop flower buds and shoots with smaller leaves. These can provide a supply of “spring greens”.
Pests and diseases. Cabbage root fly, slugs, snails, aphids and the cabbage white butterfly have all been discussed above.
Pigeons. These birds can strip the leaves from over wintering brassicas. Therefore defeat them by leaving the netting protecting your valuable crop.
Clubroot can also be a problem in some locations. Clubroot is a fungus that can live in the ground for many years and will immediately infect any new brassicas planted in infected soil. It causes the roots to become swollen and distorted and the brassicas are stunted. There is no cure but measures can be taken to limit the effects and the spread of the disease.
Be very wary of buying-in plants that are not growing in sterile soil, such as peat. You do not want to bring in contaminated soil to your plot. Much better to grow your own plants from seed using sterile soil.
Sprinkle a handful of garden lime round the planting position, if you know that there is a clubroot problem in the soil.
A plant gown in a small pot of sterile compost and then transplanted, will most likely succeed even in contaminated soil.
Always burn the roots of brassicas after cropping. Never put the old roots into a compost heap as this could transfer clubroot to other areas.
Suggested varieties of Cabbages for Summer and Autumn heading.
Primo. An early, compact, ball-headed summer variety, older open pollinated variety.
Surprise. Quick maturing, 600 g heads that should stand for a month.
Minicole F1. An Autumn variety with small, 600g oval heads that will stand for 2 months without splitting.
Kilaton. Claimed to have some clubroot resistance, with medium heads, 625g, which stay in good condition for a month.
Kilaxy. Claimed to have some clubroot resistance, with large heads, 850g, lasting a month.
Red Flare. An Autumn variety with small, solid round heads.
Primero. A small, 400g, red-headed cabbage suitable for close spacing which should last for 2 months without splitting.
Kalibos. A large, red pointed head, cabbage with a sweet taste and good texture.
Suggested varieties of Cabbages for Winter and Spring heading.
January King. A drum head variety with red tinted green leaves, ready in December and January.
Tundra. Very hardy, white ball-head savoy with crinkly leaves, should stand to March.
Clarissa. A savoy type with small, dense heads, some 425g.
Mila. A savoy type with medium, 500g, dense heads.
Short term storage. Best cooked as soon as possible, but will keep for several weeks in a fridge crispator.
Long term storage. Traditionally, red cabbages can be pickled.