Planting Cabbages in the garden is straightforward, and with proper care, you can achieve great results. However, there are precautions to take during transplantation and precise cultivation techniques to follow for growing healthy and flourishing cabbage plants. Cabbages are the most commonly cultivated vegetables in the autumn garden and winter garden. There are numerous species and varieties available, providing ample choices for cultivators.
Let’s explore the steps to grow this vegetable and understand how to identify and combat common pests and diseases without resorting to chemical pesticides.
Botanical Identification of Cabbages
Cabbages belong to the vast botanical family known as Brassicaceae or Cruciferae. They originate from the wild species Brassica Oleracea, which has given rise to numerous other different species and varieties over the centuries.
Which Cabbages to Plant in the Garden?
Here is a list of the most commonly cultivated cabbages in Italy: Romanesco broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, common cabbage, Tuscan black kale, kohlrabi, kale, Savoy cabbage, and Chinese cabbage (pak choi).
Cabbage Growing Season
Cabbages are primarily cultivated in domestic gardens during the autumn and winter seasons. This preference arises from the fact that these plants thrive in temperate climates and are sensitive to extreme temperatures. They are less tolerant of cold conditions. While it is possible to grow cabbages in the spring, there is a risk that they will prematurely bolt, spoiling the harvest. In cooler climates, cabbages remain in good condition for longer, allowing growers more time for harvesting. Keep in mind that cabbages are typically consumed for their leaves or immature inflorescences (such as cauliflower and broccoli). To enjoy them at their best, they need to be healthy and not too mature.
Planting Cabbages in Staggered Rows
One useful tip for planting cabbages in a domestic garden is to use staggered planting. Let’s take cauliflower as an example. There are various cauliflower varieties that mainly differ in their maturation times (early, medium, late). Suppose you plant 30 cauliflower plants in your garden. If you only plant early varieties, you’ll end up with 30 mature plants ready for harvest simultaneously. This can be inconvenient in a domestic garden (and even in a commercial setting). Therefore, it’s advisable to plant in a staggered manner, including 10 early varieties, 10 medium varieties, and 10 late varieties. By doing so, you’ll have the opportunity to harvest at a more relaxed pace over a longer period.
Choosing the Best Seedlings
It’s quite common to purchase cabbage seedlings from nurseries for transplanting in your garden. The timing of seedling purchase is crucial for successful cultivation. The seedlings you buy should be young, not too advanced in growth. Purchasing and transplanting older seedlings may result in poor vegetative growth, meaning they won’t grow well. In other words, older seedlings remain small in the soil, develop few leaves or inflorescences, and are generally disappointing, especially for less experienced gardeners.
Therefore, when buying your cabbage seedlings, carefully examine them. They should not have yellowing leaves, excessively rigid stems, and, most importantly, overgrown roots. A trick to assess their suitability is to pull them out of the tray. If the roots are compact and tangled, it’s best to avoid the purchase. The roots should be white and open.
The Right Soil for Cabbage Cultivation
Successful cabbage cultivation in your garden relies on having the right soil. Cabbages thrive in loose, deep soil with a good supply of humus. They do not favor clayey and waterlogged soils, which can lead to water stagnation. Cabbages benefit from proper base fertilization, which can be achieved using mature manure, pelletized poultry manure, domestic compost, or earthworm humus.
Planting Distances for Cabbages
Most cabbage species develop rather voluminous plants that require adequate spacing to thrive. When planting, consider the maximum crop development rather than the small seedlings in your hands, and avoid planting them too close together. Below is a table for planting cabbages with minimum and maximum distances, both within rows and between rows.
Why Planting Cabbages with Wide Spacing Is Better
Wide spacing between cabbage plants not only improves growth but also prevents the onset of harmful fungal diseases, such as botrytis. Proper plant spacing allows better air circulation, reduces moisture retention, and consequently reduces the risk of rot. Adequate spacing also facilitates the harvesting process.
How to Cultivate Cabbages
Cabbages are plants that dislike dry soil and water scarcity, especially during the post-transplantation phase when young plants need to establish roots. Therefore, it’s advisable to provide irrigation using a drip irrigation system or surface irrigation. However, it’s worth noting that cabbages are typically grown during the autumn and winter seasons when regular rainfall is expected. Therefore, if the season has normal and consistent rainfall, additional irrigation may not be necessary.
Irrigate the plants when the soil has dried well, and avoid waterlogged conditions.
How to Hill Up
Hilling up is a common cultivation practice for cabbage. This involves adding soil around the base of the plant, stimulating stem thickening and overall plant strength, making them more resistant to wind and precipitation. Hilling up also helps keep the soil free from weeds.
Removing Diseased Leaves
During the cabbage growing cycle, which can range from 60 days for early varieties to 120 days or more for late varieties, it’s normal for some leaves, particularly those at the base and closer to the ground, to yellow and deteriorate. A good practice is to remove these damaged basal leaves. This strengthens the plants, makes them less susceptible to pests and rot, and enhances their overall aesthetic appearance.
Preventing Cabbage Diseases
Cabbage plants are susceptible to cryptogamic diseases caused by fungal pathogens. These include cabbage clubroot, the aforementioned botrytis, alternaria leaf spot, septoria leaf spot, cabbage collar rot, sclerotinia, and powdery mildew. These diseases are undoubtedly favored by water stagnation but are especially exacerbated by improper crop rotation. In other words, it’s essential not to cultivate cabbages in the same location repeatedly. Additionally, after the growing cycle, it’s crucial to carefully remove all potentially infected crop residues from the soil. Agricultural literature often recommends not planting cabbages in the same soil for at least 5 years, especially in intensive cultivation settings where disease control is more challenging. In a domestic garden, this interval can be reduced to 2 years (assuming no diseases are present).
Cabbage Pests and Remedies
Several pests are drawn to cabbages grown in your garden. The main ones include snails, woolly aphids, the cabbage moth, and the cabbage cutworm. For snails, an effective method to keep them away from your plants is by using beer traps. Woolly aphids, on the other hand, can be eliminated by using potassium soap. The best organic remedy for the cabbage moth and cutworm is Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki.