How to grow Spring Cabbages
Spring Cabbages Growing Guide
There are few veg that remain enormously productive in the face of extreme cold and exposure. But spring cabbages sown now will stand their ground to provide you with delicious home-grown.
How to grow Spring Cabbages
There has always been a degree of confusion with first-time veg gardeners when it comes to cabbages, over which ones should be grown for when, and the cabbage growing stages. Essentially there are four different types of cabbage, identified by the time of year when they are harvested: spring, summer, autumn and winter (savoys). But because not a lot of actual growing can take place during the depths of winter, the sowing and planting times are not equally spaced throughout the year.
Mid- to late summer is the time to sow spring cabbages. Our fathers and grandfathers would have identified these cabbages a mile off as traditionally they had pointed heads, but these days there are round-headed types as well, and increasingly they are being grown purely for spring greens – that is, we harvest them as immature leaves, before they have hearted up. There are some leafy varieties, such as ‘Wintergreen’, that are bred just for this purpose.
Regardless of the shape and use of your spring cabbages, you cannot deny their value as a healthy vegetable. They are rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, and the outer leaves contain a high proportion of vitamin E.
To grow the best-hearting types you will need a firm, well-consolidated soil that has not been freshly manured. That means digging over the ground several months prior to planting and adding plenty of well-rotted manure or compost as you do so.
My greatest successes always seem to come when I plant young cabbages in ground that hasn’t been dug for 10 months. For example, this month I’ll be planting young spring cabbages in soil that was dug back in November; plenty of well-rotted manure was incorporated at that time and the soil was then used variously for legumes (peas, beans) or leafy salad veg.
Now that it’s time for growing cabbages on that ground, any excess nitrogen within the manure has dissipated, leaving behind solid, fertile soil that’s high in humus content (essential for good plant growth).
If you are looking at growing cabbage in a greenhouse, or growing cabbage in a polytunnel to offer them a bit more protection
Cabbages do best in a soil with a pH of 6–7. If the soil is too acidic (less than 6), it is important to put down lime a month or so before planting to balance it out. If your soil is sandy, apply ground limestone at the rate of 200g per 1m2; use 50 percent more on loamy ground and 50 percent more again if it is clay. These quantities should raise the pH level by one point or so.
Clubroot thrives in damp, acidic conditions, so the soil should be free-draining to help ensure it doesn’t become a problem. If needs be, improve the drainage by adding a 45cm depth of shingle. Good crop rotation will also help to prevent the build-up of clubroot and other soil-borne problems.
You should get spring cabbages underway from mid-to late summer (the young plants should be transplanted during early to mid autumn). Sow the seeds in a nursery bed outside (to save space on the plot proper) or use trays or modules under cover.
Growing Spring Cabbages month-by-month
In severely cold weather it can help to cover rows of spring cabbage plants with fleece. It also helps prevent birds from feeding on them.
This month or next, spread general fertiliser (such as Organic Growmore, or fish, blood and bone) around each plant, and then hoe in.
Cut cabbage leaves as spring greens from this month onwards. If plants have been closely spaced, harvest alternates, leaving the remainder to heart up.
Cut the cabbages as required. Don't forget to make a cross in the stump as you do; a cluster of small cabbages will then grow from this.
Mid- and late season spring cabbages can be harvested this month.
Order seeds or buy them from the garden centre. Clear and prepare the nursery bed in readiness for sowing.
Spring cabbage seed can be sown this month and any time up until the middle of September.
Continue sowing. If you're planting out the earliest sown cabbages, avoid doing so in excessively high temperatures as this inhibits good establishment.
If you are wondering ‘when do you plant spring cabbage?’, now is the time! Sow seeds of your chosen spring cabbage variety, outside in a nursery bed or under cover in trays or modules.
Transplant the young cabbage plants into their final positions spaced at 25–30cm intervals, or less for spring greens.
Keep on top of weeding, and water in dry weather. Cover rows of cabbages with netting if wood pigeons are a problem in your area.
Dig a new plot, incorporating manure into the soil as you do. Grow legumes on the site, to be vacated before the following year's spring cabbages go in.
How to grow Spring Cabbages from seed
If you’re sowing outdoors, put down a garden line (a string between two pegs will do) and use it as a guide for creating a drill 1cm deep, using a draw hoe or the corner of a sharp metal rake to do so. Water the row using a can with a fine rose end attachment then sow the seed thinly along it. Lightly rake the drill, knocking the soil back over the seeds, and gently tamp over the area with the back of the rake.
If you’re sowing multiple rows ensure there is at least 15cm between each one. After germination, thin out the seedlings to 8cm apart to prevent them becoming weak and spindly due to overcrowding.
If you’re sowing in trays or modules fill them with seed compost to within 2.5cm from the top. Lightly sprinkle the seeds on the surface, cover them (preferably using a wide-mesh sieve) with 1cm of the compost, and water.
However they are sown, transplant the seedlings to their permanent position when they are 10cm in height and have grown five or six leaves. If you’re transplanting from a nursery bed, water the rows the day before. This will soften the soil, aiding lifting and minimising root and stem damage. If you don’t get around to sowing, garden centres are increasingly stocking young plants at this time.
If you are looking into growing cabbage in pots, it is possible, but as they grow quite large, so if you are growing in a small space, you won’t be able to grow many.
Firm planting is important, so don’t be afraid to really press down on the soil around the transplanted seedlings, but be careful not to damage the stem. Water the young plants straight after transplanting and again every few days until they are well established – this means for the first couple of weeks or so. Straight after watering it is wise to place felt discs around the stems of the plants to help avoid attacks from cabbage root fly.
Caring for your Spring Cabbages plants + problems
One of the main pests of spring green cabbages is the caterpillar of the cabbage white butterfly, although the period of risk for spring cabbages largely falls in the first few weeks after planting, before the weather gets too cold. It is thought that the butterfly is repelled by having the following edibles growing nearby: tomatoes, celery, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint and hyssop. Watch out for the telltale signs where the butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves - you can pop some insect-proof mesh over the top, but pull it taut so not creatures get tangled in it.
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How to harvest Spring Cabbages
How long does cabbage take to grow? Well, spring cabbages are ready to harvest from mid- to late spring, when the heart is firm to the touch. They should be used straight away – they do not store well (unlike Dutch winter white and some red cabbages which can be stored for several months in a cool, frost-proof shed).
If you don’t immediately need the ground on which the cabbages are growing for another crop, you can produce a second harvest from the stumps – but the cabbages need to be growing in good conditions and be generally healthy. Start by harvesting the main cabbage; slice the head cleanly from its stalk, using a sharp knife and making the cut some 5cm or so up from the ground. Then cut a cross shape 1cm deep into the stump. This will sprout a cluster of smaller cabbages.
Varieties of Spring Cabbages
If you are looking for some of the best spring cabbage varieties, we’ve got a few we think you should try!
Spring Cabbages varieties to try
Unlike many spring cabbage varieties, this type has the advantage of being able to withstand the tendency to bolt (this means run to seed - you would see the cabbage flower), and is ideal where space is tight.
An attractive, pointed spring cabbage, this is a reliable variety with a good flavour. These pointed cabbage types make an attractive point of difference on the plot.
Very hardy and dark green in colour, this spring cabbage has compact heads of an excellent quality.