Make Room for Cabbage in Your Organic Vegetable Garden
Fall is an excellent time to grow cabbages in your organic garden. The sunny days and cool, crisp nights are ideal growing conditions and, since cabbage can withstand some light frost, cabbage can be grown until fairly late in the growing season. In fact, many people believe that the cabbage's flavor improves when it is harvested in cold weather, after it has withstood a couple of frosts. Here in North Carolina, I often harvest cabbages well into December. I protect them with a frost blanket if it seems like temperatures are going to dip down below the high 20s, but, other than that, I give them little special care.
The cabbages that I grow are mainly single serving sized cabbages, also known as mini-cabbages. Gonzales and Arrowhead are two of my favorite mini varieties. When mature, they usually weigh less than two pounds and are the perfect size for mixing up a batch of cole slaw or, my personal favorite, filling for eggrolls.
There are many types of cabbages to choose from including brilliant red varieties such as Ruby Perfection and beautifully savoyed varieties such as Alcosa. Most cabbage varieties are well adapted to different climates and can be grown in spring or fall, from Texas all the way up to Maine.
Cabbages can be direct-seeded or transplanted into your garden. Many garden centers sell cabbage transplants, but it is difficult to find organic ones. However, cabbage seedlings are easy to grow so you might want to give it a try yourself! The plants are usually vigorous and fast growing although many varieties are susceptible to fusarium and other diseases, especially when they are young. Growing your cabbages in the fall can help fight fusarium (which doesn't like cool temperatures). Planting fusarium resistant varieties can also help.
Cabbages need plenty of nitrogen in order to grow up big, green and healthy. Make sure that your soil has enough fertility before you plant them. Water them consistently and don't forget to turn your irrigation off: cabbages can split and crack if they are over-watered.
Insect pests, especially cabbage moths can be a very big problem for cabbages. Covering the plants with floating row cover and spraying them with Bt when if you have confirmed that they are being damaged by caterpillars (cabbage worm, cabbage looper) are two organic methods that can be used to keep your crop healthy.
Most cabbages are ready to be harvested 60-90 days after they are transplanted. If you have procrastinated and get around to planting your cabbages in the early fall (instead of the late summer) make sure to plant a fast-maturing variety such as Primax or Arrowhead.
The cabbages that you grow in your own organic vegetable garden should be sweet, juicy and crisp. They are likely to be tasty enough to eat raw in salads and slaws as well as in stir fries and stews. Once you get a taste of home-grown cabbage, you are likely to gain a whole new appreciation for this vegetable. Here's looking at you, cabbage patch kid!
Tammy Biondi has been growing organic produce for over 10 years. Besides running Blue Horizon Farm, Tammy teaches about sustainable farming at the Central Carolina Community College. She also is a successful freelance writer, focusing on agricultural topics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.