Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Bravo for Brassicas (page 2 of 2)

by Susan Littlefield

Growing Cabbage

Like broccoli, cabbage is best started indoors and set into the garden as transplants. Start seeds in spring 6 to 9 weeks before the last spring frost, transplanting them to the garden 1 to 3 weeks before the last frost. Sow seeds for a fall crop about 12 weeks before the date of the first hard frost, transplanting them out about 6 weeks later. Space seedlings 12 to 24 inches apart, depending on the mature size of the variety you're growing.

Cabbage grows best with a steady supply of nutrients, so feed with a half-strength solution of soluble fertilizer at planting, then weekly for the next 3 weeks. Also be sure the developing plants have a steady supply of water; mulch the bed to conserve soil moisture.

As with broccoli, cutworms collars and row covers will help prevent pest problems. And be sure to give cabbage seedlings some extra protection if temperatures dip below 50 degrees for more than a day or two.

When cabbage heads are hard and firm and about the size of a softball, you can begin harvesting or let them mature to their full size. If you cut the heads of spring cabbage leaving as much stem as possible, several buds may begin to sprout at the cut. Cut off all but one and you'll harvest a second, smaller head of cabbage later in the season.

Unlike regular cabbage, Chinese cabbage does best if it's direct-seeded. Sow seeds as soon as the soil can be worked for a spring crop. Fall sown Chinese cabbage is often easier to grow, being less likely to bolt due to warm weather. Sow seeds 12 weeks before the first fall frost date. Harvest when young and tender by either cuting individual leaves or the entire head.

Question of the Month: Tiny Heads of Broccoli

Q: My broccoli only formed tiny heads. What went wrong?

A: When broccoli develops tiny heads, it's called "buttoning." This happens in response to stress on the plants, sometimes due to lack of water or nutrients, or too much competition from weeds. The most common cause, however, is exposure to overly cold temperatures when the plants are small. To prevent this problem, make sure your broccoli plants have fertile soil and consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Don't plant them too early-- wait until temperatures usually stay above 50 degrees. If the weather turns cold for more than a day or two after plants are in the garden, give them some protection with medium-weight row covers, plastic tunnels or some other form of insulation.

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