Brassica oleracea capitata, cabbage for short, has been grown by man before recorded history, probably going back to Abel of Biblical times. Wild open leaf cabbage can be cultivated into kale, and the incurving leaf plants can be cultivated into heading plants.
Some of the flowering types can be cultivated into cauliflower and broccoli. Brussels Sprouts are a newcomer to the garden, having been developed in Belgium during the 16th century from wild cabbage. Fortunately for today’s modern gardener, we have developed seed to work with, although cabbage is highly adaptable to developing new strains and may open the door to the more ambitious gardener who saves seed and experiments.
The reason why so many gardeners have poor results with cabbage is that they often choose the wrong variety for the season they are growing in. For example: Early cabbage includes: Earliana, Early Jersey, Wakefield, Perfect, Primax, Marrion Market, Early Copenhagen, Blue Max (Savoy), Badger Market and a host of hybrids. Midseason cabbage includes: Copenhagen Market, Glory, Midseason Market, and a host of hybrids. Late season includes: Danish Ballhead, Penn State Ballhead, Danish Roundhead, Superior Danish, Lariet, Red cabbages and a host of hybrids. It is important to read the seedman’s literature on the season for the cabbage you intend to grow. Try different varieties and keep a written diary of what grows best, since not every season is ideal.
I start my seedlings in my growing frame sometime in February for early season varieties, and in June for my late cabbages. The general rule is to start seedlings 4 to 6 weeks early in the growing frame before setting out in the garden. This gives you a head start on the spring weather. For late plantings by direct seeding in the garden, start a growing-seedling bed 10-12 weeks before the first expected frosts.
Early seeding in a greenhouse, hot frame or growing frame is best accomplished by using an old time growing flat that is big and deep to permit plenty of root growing room. Make your flats at least four inches deep and 18 inches long, with a width of 12 inches. Use Cypress, Western Spruce or Fir 1/2 inch planks. Fill your big flats with an equal mixture of sterilized screened compost, peat moss and sharp sand. The peat moss must be pre-treated with dolomite limestone to reduce acidity at least two weeks in advance. Use 1 quart of dolomite limestone, well mixed with a four cubic foot bale of peat moss. An alternative is to use Jiffy Mix or similar commercial mixes. Another formula is: eight quarts of vermiculite, eight quarts of peat moss, four tablespoons of dolomite limestone. Potting soil is too heavy to use; it will smother the plant roots.
With the seasonal seed selected, soak the seed overnight in warm water. Spread on a corner of the flat. Cover with a paper towel, newspaper or some soil-mix. In a day or so the sprouts will appear. Then gently with a pencil point, pick out the seedlings and space them on four inch centers (minimum) on the flat. They will grow quickly in the compost-soil mix, slower in the others. You will need to keep the plant’s soil base from drying out. Bottom water by lifting the flats out of the growing frame and immerse into a large tub of warm water. If this is too heavy for you, remove the sprinkler head on your hand held watering can and direct water at the roots of the plants. Wet leaves invite fungus attack. When the soil base is wet, then fertilize every five days or so. Fish Emulsion fertilizer is good if you do not have cats.
Cats will dig up fish emulsion-scented plants in the garden. Rapid-Gro is a good chemical fertilizer if you follow the directions. Plants grow very quickly with chemical boosts. Many gardeners like to add a liquid seaweed emulsion to the fertilizer for sturdy plants. Keep the air temperature in the mid-50°F range.
Prepare your garden soil in advance by adding 1 bushel of composted manure per hundred foot of row, and a mixture of two parts cotton seed meal, one part colloidal phosphate and two part granite meal; all well tilled in two weeks in advance. A neutral soil is good with an addition of extra dolomite lime sprinkled on the surface. Cabbage likes lime. Ensure that your cabbage patch has not grown brassica for the past several years; rotate brassica. Chemical gardeners will do well with 8-8-8 or 5-10-10 at two to three pounds per hundred feet of row.
Set plants deeper than they were in the flat, up to the first leaf axis, 10-12 inches apart – red varieties slightly more. I prefer to use a shredded straw mulch around the plants to hold moisture and encourage fertility while reducing weeds. Cutworm collars may be needed in the spring. Next week let’s look at insects and bigger cabbages.
Copyright: 2009, Back2theLand, Mark Steel