Gardening Articles: Care :: Pests & Problems

Get A Head

by Jack Ruttle

Cabbage is one vegetable that has been bypassed by the designer vegetable trend. You won't find it featured in fancy restaurants. Local nurseries don't pay much attention to it. And for many gardeners cabbage is a no-brainer. You plant one dependable variety and a couple of months's slaw time!

There is no more regal a vegetable than a well-grown cabbage, three feet across, its giant silvery green or dusty purple leaves shining with health. Cabbages can take some heat, but they love the cold, which means that we can have a cabbage or two gracing the garden in spring and fall as well as summer.

The reason a lot of people start taking cabbage for granted is that it often turns out to be too much of a good thing. Buy a sixpack at the garden center, put the seedlings in and about two months later six plump heads of cabbage will be staring at you. And I don't know any family--even one that loves cabbage--who needs even three cabbages at once, especially when there are so many other vegetables ready for eating. With a little planning before you plant, you can arrange your harvest according to your needs.

Start from Seed

First, free yourself from the sixpack syndrome and grow your own transplants. Aside from giving you a much wider range of varieties from which to choose, starting cabbage from seed is easy. No vegetable seed sprouts so readily in containers or in the ground. Cabbage germinates over a wide range of soil temperatures--at 50&deg to 90&deg F the seed is up in four days. And the seedlings are strong enough to push gamely through rougher soils than carrots or lettuce can. The stocky little plants quickly reach a size that's easy to handle.

All of which makes it convenient to have just two or three plants going at a time. Even though you may really only need one plant ready to pick at a time, starting with several increases the odds against the pests that can make short work of a young cabbage plant. That's why it's also better to start your seedlings in containers where you can protect them, rather than starting them in the garden. Every two to four weeks start two or three more plants, up until about six weeks before the last hard frost date. If a space should open up unexpectedly, you can fill the gap promptly with a cabbage.

Leftover seed won't go to waste. Cabbage seed lasts a long time with no special care. If you put it in a box on top of a file cabinet or in a kitchen drawer it will keep with good germination rates for about five years. Extra seed kept in sealed containers in a cool place will last up to nine years with little decline in vigor. You can buy one packet of a new cabbage every season, and in a few years, you'll have a complete cabbage sampler in your garden, with a selection of varieties for both spring and fall planting.

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