Gardening Articles: Care :: Pests & Problems

Get A Head (page 3 of 4)

by Jack Ruttle

Flat Heads

Flat Heads
Flat Headed cabbage

This hamburger bun-shaped type produces tremendous yields of huge heads that store well. While flat heads are quickly disappearing from the American scene, they are the cabbage of choice in China, where people serve wedges cut the way that we slice pie.

The classic flat head is 'Late Flat Dutch'. It produces a head 10 inches across that will keep in cold storage for at least two months. It's best planted to mature in fall or early winter.

Loose Heads

Loose Heads
Loose Headed cabbage

In England these are called "spring cabbages" and are shipped up from the milder southwestern counties in March and April. In America we call them collards and consider them a southern crop. Some varieties available to gardeners include 'Vates', 'Georgia', and 'Champion'. The cabbage collection at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva contains several dozen kinds.

The frugal way to eat collards is as greens--harvesting lower leaves, cutting or pulling out the tough midribs and chopping the greens. A better way is to treat them more like cabbage. Grow them to form a large, loose head in fall or early winter. Harvest only the tender, pale green and buttery yellow inner leaves of the head and serve them as you would cabbage: steamed, stir-fried or in stews. Leave the big green leaves in the garden.

What Cabbage Likes

What Cabbage Likes

Remember that cabbage prefers a temperate climate, preferably on the cool side, and plant accordingly. If the temperature never left the 60s and 70s, cabbages would grow to perfection. They can take freezes down to about 22&deg F without damage. But when the weather is hot, cabbage flavor declines and the heads can split quickly if the soil is wet.

Ideally, you want your cabbage crop to mature before daily temperatures move into the 90°Fs. In the North, it's a summer and fall crop. In the middle latitudes you can get a quick crop in spring, but the fall harvest will be better. In the South, cabbage can be planted in late summer and again in mid- to late winter.

Cabbages behave like biennials: Exposed to cold below 40°F, they start to go to seed. For winter transplants in the South, the rule of thumb is that stems should be no thicker than a pencil or temperatures below 40° F can force the plants to bolt to seed. When figuring days to maturity, remember that days when the temperature barely reaches 50° F don't count for much. The cabbage will sit there in fine condition, but little growing takes place. During cool weather the flavor improves measurably as sugars build up in the plant.

To get big cabbages, grow them fast. You need the plants to develop leaves quickly to power subsequent growth, so keep the soil evenly moist and fertile from planting day onwards. Among vegetables, cabbage is one of the heaviest feeders. Apply three pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer or a seed meal per 100 square feet. The earth should be high in organic matter and be worked loosely and deeply. Cabbages do well in double-dug or well-tilled ground.

For big heads, set the plants about 20 inches apart. If smaller heads suit your needs or the capacity of your refrigerator better, set them 12 inches apart. Cabbage plants have many shallow roots, so don't hoe too closely to the plants. It's best to have an organic mulch around them by the time they are half-grown. As harvest approaches, the heads become very tight and firm when you squeeze them. If for some reason you can't harvest and store them in a refrigerator, you can slow their tendency to split by pushing a shovel blade into the ground next to the stem, severing roughly half the plant's roots so they take up less water.

For fall and winter crops it's best to start seeds in containers, even though they will germinate well in open ground. It's the easiest way to avoid insect damage, since the plants are most vulnerable when they are young. It also helps you to mitigate high heat. Set transplants into the garden when they reach the 6- to 8-leaf stage.

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