The savoy cabbage is a leafy vegetable mainly cultivated during the autumn and winter months. With the right care, it is a vegetable that is very easy to grow. Given the remarkable size that a mature savoy cabbage can reach, even a few plants are enough to provide great satisfaction. For this reason, it is an ideal vegetable to be grown in the home garden, even by the less experienced. Its use in cooking is very versatile. It can be consumed raw or used as a base for traditional regional recipes.
In this article, we’ll see the right period for transplantation and the necessary cultivation care to grow healthy and lush plants. We’ll then explore the main pests and diseases to watch out for, and how to handle them in an organic way.
Botanical overview of savoy cabbage
Savoy cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. sabauda) is a vegetable belonging to the botanical family Cruciferae (or Brassicaceae). It is closely related to two other beloved vegetables: cauliflower and broccoli. It is a plant native to the Mediterranean basin, cultivated since ancient times. The Romans held it in high regard, not only for food but also for its healing properties. As we will explore further, savoy cabbage indeed has excellent therapeutic properties.
Morphological characteristics of savoy cabbage
Savoy cabbage is a biennial plant, meaning it blooms from the second year onwards. However, in the garden, it is cultivated following a shorter, six-month cycle. The root system is robust and extensive, although it does not penetrate deeply. The above-ground part begins with a short main stem, which reaches a maximum of 30 cm before flowering. Leaves branch out from the stem. These form a large apical bud or “head”, which is the edible part of the savoy cabbage. The leaves are sessile, meaning they lack a petiole, and they tightly encircle the apical meristem. The lower leaves surrounding the head are very expanded. Generally, they are blistered, wrinkled, almost curled, and gathered into a compact ball. The outer leaves (the lower ones) are intense green, almost purplish. Those comprising the head, on the other hand, are lighter (almost white towards the center), tender, and crisp.
Cultivation of savoy cabbage
Climate and period
Savoy cabbage is a vegetable typically harvested in the autumn and winter. However, the numerous available varieties are also suitable for spring production. In general, it is a very hardy plant that is not afraid of the cold, although it avoids excessive heat and drought. It also withstands temperatures that reach freezing, including frosts, as long as they are not prolonged. Due to these characteristics, it can be cultivated throughout our country, even in the colder northern regions.
Depending on the cultivation and harvesting period, various varieties of savoy cabbage are available. Let’s see what they are.
Spring and summer varieties
We have two varieties of spring-summer cabbage:
- Precocissimo d’Asti: oval head and distinctly blistered dark green leaves
- Quarantino di San Giovanni: globular head with small dimensions and light-colored leaves
Autumn and winter varieties
There are also two varieties of savoy cabbage suitable for autumn-winter cultivation:
- Testa di ferro: very hardy and vigorous, with a large and consistent head
- Verzotto d’Asti: large-headed variety with intense and aromatic flavor.
There are three purely winter varieties:
- Tardivo di Milano: very voluminous head and blistered leaves
- Tardivo di Piacenza: very dark leaves
- Trionfo d’inverno: variety with high productivity in terms of head volume
In addition to these varieties, typical of the Italian tradition, there are many hybrid varieties available on the market, which are currently among the most popular.
Sowing and transplantation of savoy cabbage
If you want to grow savoy cabbage from seeds, you need to consider the timing. From the moment of sowing to the formation of a plant ready for transplantation, about 30-40 days pass. This is crucial for choosing the right time for planting. Let’s look at a few examples. For transplantation in March, you need to sow in a seedbed in January-February, perhaps using a small greenhouse (like this one). Transplanting a spring variety in March allows for harvesting as early as May, before the intense heat arrives. For September transplanting in the garden, it is advisable to sow in a seedbed towards the end of July or early August. Autumn varieties have a longer cycle, so the harvest does not occur before the end of November.
Similarly, for transplantation in October, you should start with seeds at the end of August or at the latest in early September. Winter varieties are even later, so the harvest should take place in the new year. The task is made easier by purchasing already established seedlings from a nursery. This allows you to choose the transplanting time directly.
Soil and fertilization
For cultivating savoy cabbage, you need well-tilled, fresh soil with a good supply of organic matter. If it is cultivated successively after a summer crop, such as zucchini, which has benefited from good organic fertilization, there is no need to fertilize before transplantation. This is necessary, however, for transplanting in poor soil. For this purpose, well-matured animal manure (from organic farms) or pelleted manure, such as this one, can be used. Before transplantation, you can also add the result of home composting to the soil or another widely used organic fertilizer, vermicompost, which you can also purchase here.
Irrigation and transplantation distances
Cultivating savoy cabbage requires proper irrigation. It is a very water-demanding plant. Therefore, it is advisable to use a drip irrigation system. While it’s true that if natural rainfall is frequent, artificial irrigation can be limited, during dry seasons, it’s best to have an efficient system in place. Additionally, to grow robust plants, it’s necessary to respect proper transplantation distances. A fully mature savoy cabbage plant is quite voluminous. The minimum distances are: 40 cm between plants in the row, and 50 cm between rows.
Among the cultivation care practices for savoy cabbage, the most important is earthing up, a procedure previously discussed in relation to fennel. This process involves manually adding soil to the base of the plant. It is performed at least once during the cultivation cycle, roughly a month after transplantation. By doing this, the savoy cabbage’s roots and stem will thicken, making it more resistant to heavy rain, strong winds, etc. Earthing up also eliminates the need for manual weeding.
Organic defense against pests
The main pests of savoy cabbage are three: cabbage moth caterpillar, snails, and aphids.
Cabbage moth caterpillar larvae can cause severe leaf erosion in young plants. To address infestations of this lepidopteran, we recommend two remedies: Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki and a natural macerate of tomato leaves.
Snails, on the other hand, can be contrasted with simple traps or through biological control using the nematode Phasmarhabditis.
Aphids can be controlled by encouraging the presence of beneficial insects in the garden and using a natural insecticidal soap.
Savoy cabbage is ready for harvest when the head is firm and well-formed. For each plant, you can cut the head off at the base. The outer leaves, which are generally more damaged, can be removed and used immediately. The head can be stored for several weeks in a cool, dark place.
- Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer prevention: “Cabbage (Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata) phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential” – This article discusses the phytochemical properties of various cabbage types, emphasizing their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential.
- Phytochemistry Reviews, 2017: “White cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. alba): botanical, phytochemical and pharmacological overview” – This review provides insights into the botanical, phytochemical, and pharmacological aspects of white cabbage, which might include the Savoy cabbage.
- Journal of Food Science, 2021: “Cabbage (Brassica oleracea): A food with functional properties aimed to type 2 diabetes prevention and management” – The article explores the potential benefits of cabbage, possibly including Savoy cabbage, in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
- International Journal of Food Properties, 2019: “Color changes kinetics during deep fat frying of kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) slice” – While this article primarily focuses on kohlrabi, it might touch upon the beneficial properties of Brassica oleracea family members, including Savoy cabbage.