Cabbages need a sunny site with deep, firm, moisture retentive soil. Add plenty of compost or organic matter before planting.
Plant in raised beds & traditional plots
Cabbage is better grown in raised beds or a well dug traditional veg patch. You could grow them in a grow bag too, 3 to a bag.
How far apart?
Firm in well
When you plant your cabbages, be sure to firm them in well by pressing the soil down around the base of the plants.
Protect with a brassica collar
You can make these easily out of cardboard. Cut a 10cm diameter disc, cut into the centre and make a slit so that you can pop it around the base of the plant. This is to prevent cabbage root fly larvae from hatching by the base of the plant and burying under the soil to eat the roots.
Net against pigeons & butterflies
Pigeons love brassica plants and will easily destroy a crop of young plants in a morning. Meanwhile, cabbage white butterflies are attracted to brassicas and lay eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are quick to nibble away the leaves and strip the plant bare. To protect against both these pests, cover plants with fine mesh netting or horticultural fleece.
Keep soil moist
As weather warms up it is important to keep cabbages cool and to give them enough water. Try to keep the soil consistently moist rather than allowing it to dry out. During dry spells, water well, once or twice a week.
When to harvest
Harvest as required once the cabbage is fully mature. In cold weather you can leave them in the ground until you want them.
Pigeons will eat the foliage right down to the ribs/veins. Keep plants netted if you have a lot of pigeons around.
Lots of holes appearing in leaves is a sure sign of caterpillars. They soon grow, and the holes grow too. Check the underside of leaves and you may see tiny eggs – wipe them off with kitchen paper – or caterpillars themselves. Keep plants netted against butterflies.
Slugs & Snails
Protect plants well from slugs, especially when they are young and vulnerable. Beer traps work well and you may need to to do a dusk patrol with a head torch and bucket to remove slugs if they get really bad!
Cabbage Root Fly
Cabbage flies lay eggs at the base of brassica plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae bury into the ground and feed on the roots. The plants eventually wilt and die. Prevention is key – use brassica collars (see growing advice section)
This is a fungal disease that leads to the swelling and distortion of roots, and plants will be stunted. Avoid growing brassicas in the same bed for two years consecutively if this happens. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil.
Heart not forming/Split heads
If your cabbage fails to form a heart, and instead produces lots of loose leaves, it is most likely due to irregular watering in the soil. Try not to let soil dry out completely, and be careful during hot, dry spells.
Leaves eaten entirely apart from veins = Pigeons (or a lot of caterpillars)
Holes eaten in leaves – no slime trail = Caterpillars
Holes eaten in leaves with slime trails = Slugs/Snails
Stunted growth/wilting = Cabbage root fly or Club Root
Heart not forming = Too hot/dry & irregular watering
Harvest them as you want to eat them – they will store in the fridge for a few days, but are much better cooked fresh.
Ways to cook
Bubble and squeak is a fabulous cabbage dish, or you can simply stir fry with a little vegetable oil.
Braised red cabbage is delicious, cooked with apple juice, cinnamon and cloves.
Spring Greens and Winter Greens are excellent to finely chop and add to a stir fry.