Spring cabbage growing - Spring cabbage how to grow, tips, varieties, cooking.
Spring cabbage…. A hardy vegetable that’s an excellent source of Vitamin C and glutamine, an amino acid which has anti-inflammatory properties. Health benefits aside, the image of spring cabbage has been tarnished by the soggy mush served up in school and work canteens. In this guide I hope to banish the soggy cabbage blues as I show you how to cook cabbage correctly, but first let’s look at how to grow it at home.
Brassica oleracea capitata
Area of origin:
Cabbage usually takes the form of broad and crowded leaves, which overlap to form a clustered head. The leaves can be smooth or crinkly, coloured green or purple. Growing on a short stem the heads of cabbage can be round, flat, or conical.
Spring cabbage varieties are generally green in colour, conical in shape, and smaller in size than summer and winter varieties.
Are they easy or hard to grow:
Reasonably easy to grow once soil is suitable and pests are controlled.
Varieties suitable to grow in Ireland:
Durham early (Dark green conical heads, nice texture and flavour, one of the earliest to harvest as heads in April or as spring greens even earlier.)
April (Compact dark green conical heads, suits small plots where space is limited, withstands bolting or running to seed.)
Offenham-Flower of Spring (Large green conical heads, solid strong grower and sweet tasting, withstands bolting or running to seed, heads in late April or usable as spring greens even earlier.)
Wintergreen, Offenham 3 (similar to Offenham-Flower of Spring)
Pixie (small green conical heads, suits small plots where space is limited, early and tasty greens).
Spring Hero (An unusual ball-headed spring cabbage rather than conical, to be sown in August only for spring harvest, large medium green heads with a cream coloured centre, once mature it holds well)
When to grow:
Normally spring cabbage varieties can be sown during July and August. For all varieties it’s a good idea to make successional sowings, allowing you harvest continually while the veg is young and tender.
Where to grow, and soil conditions required:
Although spring cabbage can tolerate shade they will do much better in a sunny spot. Shelter is also beneficial. Avoid soil that becomes waterlogged or conversely dries out rapidly.
Relative acidity or alkalinity (Ph) required:
Spring cabbage doesn’t grow very well in a strongly acid or strongly alkaline soil. This is because most essential vegetable nutrients in the soil are soluble and available for use at pH levels of 5.5 to 7.5 (slightly acid to neutral). Most vegetables grow best within this range, as is the case with spring cabbage where 7.0 is about optimum.
If the pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) of your soil is not suited to the vegetable, then soil nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, iron, boron, copper, manganese and zinc start to become unavailable, leading to poor crops. You can use a simple home soil test available in most garden centres to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your vegetable garden soil in line.
The application of ground lime will be helpful in countering the excessive acidity. As a rough rule of thumb, an application of 250g of ground lime per metre squared the autumn before planting/sowing will commonly increase your ph by about one point. However as lime is available in different formulations and soil types vary, I advise also consulting the rates set out on the pack.
If you need to decrease your ph to make the soil more acid, then you can apply sulphate of iron at a rate of 100g per metre squared for each drop in ph point. Apply this product according to the manufacturers instructions and heed safety warnings especially those concerning the use of protective clothing and equipment. An application of 2 inches of peat moss worked in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area will also go a good way towards dropping your soil by one ph point.
Food reserves required:
For long term feeding of your crop, every 10m2 of growing area should have one wheelbarrow load of well-rotted homemade compost or farmyard animal manure spread over its surface sometime during the autumn/early winter before planting/sowing. Dig this in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area to enrich it for your crop. Whilst digging, remove any stones and other obstacles that might cause the roots to become malformed.
As a rule of thumb, well-rotted manure/compost will be over six months old, and tend to be dark brown will little if any smell. You should not be able to distinguish individual pieces of straw, hay, vegetable peelings, grass etc., as it will all be rotted down.
A week or two before sowing your seed should lightly rake a well-balanced fertilizer into your growing area followed by lightly treading the soil. Growmore or fish blood and bone (organic option) are both suitable for this purpose. Apply according to the rates on the pack.
How to plant or sow:
In your weed-free and lightly raked growing area you must create a ½ inch (1cm) deep drill/trench with the tip of your trowel. Ideally you should sow the seed thinly along the drill. Just ensure you have at least a seed ever 2 or 3 inches. This reduces the amount of thinning required and consequently reduces the risk of attack by cabbage root fly.
Create as many drills as you like at 6-inch (15in) intervals. As a rough rule of thumb you can expect about 2 to 3 heads per metre of row, which may help you make a decision on how much to grow. Any seed not required for sowing that year should be kept dry as it has a life expectancy of 4 years.
The expected seed germination time is approx 10 days. Its time for thinning when your seedlings have produced true leaves, those which are the first set of leaves that emerge after the original germination leaves. Thin them to leave a single plant at each 3-inch interval, then water the crop well afterwards. If you have space in your garden you can replant some of the thinnings as a bonus.
The above-mentioned seed and drill spacing assumes that you will transplant your cabbage plants once they outgrow the seedling stage. The main reason for transplanting cabbage is to encourage it to form a heart, solid head, and form a sturdy root system. If seedlings are left to grow where the seed is sown, the cabbage heads may be of poor density.
However if the risk poor density does not bother you, then cabbage seed can be sown in the position they are to crop without the need for transplanting. As you will not be transplanting, your seed sowing drills in this instance should be 12 inches (30cm) apart.
Three seeds can be sown in a cluster 1 inch apart at each growing position (every 12-14 inches along the drill/trench).
These are then thinned to one plant at each station when your seedlings have produced true leaves. They are then left to grow on where they have been sown.
If transplanting, the young plants should be ready for transplantation Mid September to the end of October. They will be about six weeks old, between 2 ½ -3 inches (6-8cm high), with about 6 leaves. Water the ground deeply around the young plants the day before you intend to move them, as this will prevent damage and shock to them.
The transplants new growing bed should have been prepared sometime during the autumn/early winter before sowing, in the way as described earlier in this guide. Ensure that the soil is quite firm to allow steady cabbage leaf growth.
To transplant you can use a dibber. This is usually a plastic, metal or wooden hand tool, 6-inches long with a pointed tip; primarily used to make holes in soil for planting and transplanting seedlings, bulbs etc. You can buy one of these or take the frugal option and whittle one out of a broken broom handle or better still an old garden fork or spade shaft (complete with T or D handle).
With your dibber make rows of 4-inch deep holes in the transplanting area at 12-14 inches apart. Allow 12 inches (30cm) between each of the plant rows. Then from your seedbed, lift out the young cabbage plants with a trowel or hand-fork retaining as much soil around the roots as possible. The plants can be kept damp throughout the time it takes to plant them by lightly wrapping bunches of them in damp sacking or wet newspaper.
Pop each transplant into the prepared hole, and don’t worry that you are planting them too deep. Plant the seedlings firmly, after which they should be well watered taking great care not to disturb the roots. The 4-inch deep holes will often swallow the plant up to its first leaves but that will solve the problem of leggy wind-rocked stems.
The dibber can be pushed into the soil at points an inch or two from the transplant hole, then used as a lever to close the soil around the plant. You can also firm around the plants with your fingers. Water well each individual plant directly after transplantation to help prevent shock.
This planting method is also the one you will adopt if you wish to sow cabbage from plants rather than seed. Where someone else grows the young cabbage plants for you. These plants are readily available in most good garden centres and save you tying up a piece of ground for raising the seedlings.
Caring for your crop:
Keep the soil around the cabbage weed-free. Take care when weeding because the roots are easily damaged. Remove any yellow leaves or those badly damaged by caterpillar or slug attack as you go. Keep an eye on the plants over autumn and winter, firming the plants down if lifted by frost or pulling some soil up around the stems to help prevent against wind rock as needed.
Do not allow the plants to dry out as this will result in plant bolting. A mulch of some form helps preserve soil moisture, for example herbicide-free grass clippings.
During a prolonged spell without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. As a rough rule of thumb apply approx 10 litres per metre squared of soil area. Carry out this watering in the morning and try to avoid splashing the leaves, watering the soil instead.
At about the forth or fifth week after seed germination and while plants are growing strongly you can apply a second application of a well balanced fertiliser. Although not essential, a further scattering of Growmore or fish blood and bone can increase the vegetables vigour and make the less susceptible to plant ills. Once scattered the fertiliser should be lightly scratched into the soils surface followed by gentle but deep watering of the soil.
Pests and Diseases:
After sowing provide protection against birds especially if pigeons are a problem in your area. Bird protection should be provided in the form of netting should be used. Fine netting will also prevent butterflies laying their eggs on your crop, which prevents caterpillar damage.
The fungal disease clubroot is a serious ailment of cabbage, displaying itself as yellow wilting leaves and stunting of growth. With clubroot the plants roots also become stumpy and swollen, often developing wet rot. To avoid make sure the soil is well drained, the soil Ph rules are followed (mentioned earlier), and members of the cabbage family (brassicas) are only grown in the same location every one-year in three.
Other troubles of spring cabbage include…
Cabbage root fly
Leaf spot AKA ring spot
Slugs & snails
White blister AKA White rust
Harvesting, when and how:
Time from sowing seed to harvest is from 11 to 26 weeks, which can be anything from the end of February to the start of June. April and May being the most common harvesting times.
Harvest the cabbage by cutting the head off close to ground level with sharp knife. Try if you can try to leave the outer leaves on the remaining stem. Often a secondary crop of small heads will re-grow on the stalk for harvesting later.
For short-term storage (one to two weeks), place spring cabbage heads in the salad crisper compartment of your refrigerator.
Longer-term, it will keep for three to four months in a area which is cool (2-4 degrees centigrade), dark and away from strong flavours or scents. Remove outer leaves then place individual layers of cabbage heads in slatted boxes, surrounding each head with paper, hay or straw.
To long-term store, chop coarsely, boil for one minute, remove and place under cold water, then freeze in plastic bags. This will allows you to store cabbage for approx 10 to 12 months.
Cut into strips and steam or boil lightly. This will cook the cabbage fast and evenly, thus avoiding the soggy cabbage that turns so many people off.
Serve alongside boiled bacon and potatoes mashed with little melted butter and/or cream. Or after boiling perhaps toss in an oil and vinegar dressing, and then chill to serve with cold ham or other meats.
Cooked cabbage and mashed potatoes can be sautéed (shallow fried) together to make the traditional English dish “bubble and squeak.”
Try braising chopped cabbage with butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Just at the end of cooking toss a few caraway seeds over it, then serve.
Strips of cabbage can also be introduced to a stir-fry near the end of cooking, adding bite and flavour.
Use chopped cabbage in mixed vegetable soup or the old favourite coleslaw.
More debate about this topic on our forum,
click The Irish gardeners forum.
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