Cabbage (Brassicas)

Cabbages

Cabbages (Brassica oleracea) are easy to grow and quite versatile in the kitchen. Despite its bad press, freshly cooked cabbage is a delicious vegetable that contains a good variety of vitamins and other healthy compounds.

How to Cook >> Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: Deeply-dug, moderately enriched, firm, non-acid soil.

Conditions: Full sun.

Ease of Cultivation: Easy

Type: Leafy Vegetable.

Hardiness: Hardy in the UK.

When to Sow: March to September, depending on variety.

Harvest Season: From 10 to 40 weeks after sowing, depending on variety.

Planting and Growing Cabbage

Follow standard crop rotation rules for brassicas. Do not grow in ground that has been used for brassicas in the last few years.

Don't be tempted to grow too many cabbages of the same type, all at once, as such a glut will just go to waist. It is better to grow a selection of different varieties, and/or use succession sowing to extent the growing season.

There are three main cabbage seasons:

Spring cabbages: sown in July and August and planted out from September to October, for maturity around April and May.

Summer cabbages: sown in late winter to early spring under cover and planted out from late April through June, providing a crop from July right through to October.

Winter cabbages: sown in April to May and planted out in July, ready for cropping from November to February.

Different varieties have been specifically bred to suit each of these season, although some varieties will overlap. For more details see Popular Varieties below.

Green cabbages are usually conical, loose leaved or form round tight balls (called drum-heads). Savoy cabbages have crinkled leaves. Red cabbages are often used for pickling but are very soft and flavoursome when cooked, and not as bitter as green cabbages.

Preparation

The ground should be deeply dug and moderately enriched several months before planting. Spring cabbages need a richer soil. Don't grow in freshly manured soil but in ground that was manured the previous autumn. If you are unable to obtain well-rotted manure, then enrich with garden compost. Apply garden lime if the soil is acidic. Soil pH should be around 7.

Note: Don't lime the soil at the same time as adding compost or manure.

When to Sow

Sow spring cabbages thinly in a prepared seed bed or trays of compost, from July to September. Thin to 2in (5cm) apart and transplant to the growing site once they reach 6in (15cm) tall. Space at 14-16in (35-40cm) apart.

Sow summer and autumn varieties under cover in February or outside in late March to May in a prepared seed bed. Thin to 2in (5cm) apart and transplant to the growing site once they reach 6in (15cm) tall. Space at 14-16in (35-40cm) apart.

Sow winter varieties in a prepared bed or in seed trays around April and May and transplant to the growing site in July. Spacing 18in (45cm) apart. Sow savoys and other hardy winter cabbages from the end of May to mid-June. Savoys will be ready from November onwards.

Red cabbages are best sown in March, ready for harvest in autumn.

Chinese cabbage/leaves or pak-choi, are more like lettuce and fast maturing. These should be sown in situ and not transplanted. Depending on the variety, sow thinly in July or August, spacing to 12in (30cm) apart. They should be ready to harvest around October.

Sow at regular intervals for successional cropping. Plant spacing will depend on size and variety.

Taking Care of Cabbages

Provide plenty of water at all stages of growth and keep the area free of weeds. Re-firm the ground if the plants are rocked by wind or lifted by frost.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to cabbage root fly, cabbage white butterfly, aphids, slugs and snails. Use netting to keep cabbage white butterfly away. Alternatively, regularly check the underside of the leaves for the tell-tale clusters of yellow eggs and remove them before they hatch.

Can be affected by club root, especially if the soil has not been limed.

Follow standard crop rotation rules for brassicas to keep pests and diseases at bay.

Harvesting & Storing Cabbage

Cut cabbages as and when required. Most varieties (except round-heads) can be harvested early or left to mature fully.

Spring cabbage should be harvested once the hearts are firm. Approximately 20-35 weeks after sowing. Harvest red cabbage when the head is firm and thoroughly formed. Winter cabbages are bred to withstand cold weather so they can be left in the ground until needed.

Usually the whole plant is lifted and the stem cut off just below the head. However, for spring and summer cabbages, you can leave about 2in (5cm) of stem in the ground and make a cross in the top, about a 1/4in (1cm) deep. This should result in the plant forming four smaller heads, for a second crop.

Storing

Cut off the stem and remove outer leaves where any slugs may be hiding. Store in a cool dark, airy place.

Firm cabbages with tight heads usually store quite well if kept cool and dry. For example, drum head winter cabbages can be cut in November and stored for several weeks or more.

Freezing Cabbage

Freeze only young crisp heads for best results. Remove the stalk and outer leaves. Trim, shred, wash thoroughly and blanch for 1 minute. Drain well and cool. Pack in freezer bags and freeze for 6 months. Cook from frozen.

How to Cook Cabbage

Before cooking, strip the coarse outer leaves, slice the cabbage into thin strips, removing the hard centre core.

Wash thoroughly before cooking. Bring to the boil and simmer in lightly salted water for 5-8 minutes. Do not overcook or it will become soggy and lose flavour.

Add butter and seasoning to taste.

Nutritional Value

Raw cabbage is a good source of vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, D and K. It is also high in potassium and calcium.

Popular Varieties of Cabbage

Different types of cabbage are sown and planted at different times of the year so be sure to carefully follow the instructions on the seed packet.

Spring Cabbage

Cabbage 'April' a popular variety that forms tender, flavoursome hearts. Resistant to bolting. Can be sown close together, so ideal for smaller gardens. Height: 12in (30cm), spread: 16in (40cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Duncan' (F1 Hybrid) a versatile cabbage that can be sown in late summer for a spring crop, or sown in early to late summer for an autumn crop. Excellent flavour and resistant to splitting. Available at Marshalls and Mr Fothergills.

Cabbage 'Durham Early' a reliable variety that yields solid, crisp, conical spring cabbages with firm pointed hearts. Can also be sown or planted closely for delicious 'spring greens', ready to harvest from February. Height: 12in (30cm), spread: 14in (35cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Early Jersey Wakefield' one of the tastiest spring cabbages. The compact solid conical heads mature after 60 days from planting.

Summer/Autumn Cabbage

Cabbage 'Cabbice' (F1 Hybrid) an intensely sweet cabbage variety producing thick crisp leaves, ideal for use in salads and coleslaws. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Caramba' (F1 Hybrid) a fine sweetheart cabbage during late summer through to winter, with tender, sweet pointed mid-green hearts. Ideal shredded raw in salads and coleslaws or delicious as a steamed vegetable. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Champion' a non hearting (Collard) type with long, wavy dark green leaves with distinctly mild flavour and no aftertaste. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Derby Day' a round cabbage with bright green leaves. One of the best early ball-head types.

Cabbage 'Dutchman' a deep red 'baby pointed' cabbage for autumn/winter cutting. It has a mild, sweet taste, ideally suited for shredding raw for autumn and winter salads, or used as a cooked vegetable. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Elisa' (F1 Hybrid) a deliciously sweet tasting cabbage producing compact, round, shiny heads that stands well. Good resistance to bolting. Ideal sliced raw in salads and stir-fries as well as a steamed vegetable. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Gilson' (F1 Hybrid) a vigorous autumn cropping white cabbage. Useful on poor soils. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Greyhound' a reliable compact cabbage that produces early, conical hearts that are full of flavour. Compact plants with very few wasted outer leaves. Can be sown early and matures quickly. Height: 12in (30cm), spread: 16in (40cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Hispi' a compact variety that can be sown year round. Stands well without splitting. Good for small gardens.

Cabbage 'Kilaton' (F1 Hybrid) produces quality, 2kg, autumn ball heads with a solid, dense structure. Superb used for coleslaw, salads or steamed. Stands and stores well over a long period. Clubroot Resistant. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Minicole' (F1 Hybrid) a useful small cabbage that stands well. Can be grown very close together. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Primo 11' a reliable variety that produces solid 'ball head' cabbages from June to August. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Height: 12in (30cm), spread: 18in (45cm). Available at Van Meuwen.

Cabbage 'Stonehead' produces solid, round, tight packed, crisp heads, on short stalks. Ideal for small gardens.

Cabbage 'Summer Jewel' the smooth, dark green leaves carry no stalk, easier to prep and less wastage. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Tamarindo' a fine white cabbage with thin veins, ideal for cabbage rolls and green 'wraps'. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Tantour' (F1 Hybrid) a good multipurpose cabbage for 'greens' at close spacing or 'full heart' at wider spacing, with dark green outer leaves and bright green pointed solid hearts. Sow February-April for harvest June-November. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Tinty' a mild sweet tasting green cabbage for autumn/winter cutting. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Red Cabbage

Cabbage 'Red Drumhead' a popular compact cabbage with dark red leaves. Ideal for small gardens.

Cabbage 'Red Jewel' (F1 Hybrid) a popular round red cabbage with large, tightly packed hearts of crisp, ruby red leaves. Excellent standing and storing ability. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Ruby Ball' (F1 Hybrid) a tasty, early maturing red cabbage, with dense, solid, crunchy hearts. Ideal for pickling or storing over winter. Late summer/autumn cropping. Height: 16in (40cm), spread: 24in (60cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Winter & Savoy Cabbage

Cabbage 'Alaska' a small dark green Savoy for mid to late season.

Cabbage 'Best of All' a large Savoy with a bid heart, ready in September.

Cabbage 'Brigadier' (F1 Hybrid) a large quality giant. Delicious eaten raw or cooked. Stands well. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Celtic' a large leafy hardy cabbage with blue/green leaves.

Cabbage 'Cordesa' (Autumn Savoy) a flavoursome versatile Savoy that produces fresh heads throughout summer and autumn. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'January King' a hardy winter blue cabbage with crisp, crunchy heads of good flavour. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Tourmaline' a hardy Savoy that can be cut throughout the winter and into spring, producing compact heads of deeply savoyed, dark green leaves. High resistance to xanthemonas (black rot). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage 'Tundra' (RHS AGM variety) produces solid, sweet, crisp Savoy heads. High yielding and particularly hardy. The dark green heads stand well when left in the ground, without splitting. Available at Marshalls, Mr Fothergills , Thompson & Morgan.

Chinese Leaves

Cabbage 'Jade Pagoda' a long-headed, cylindrical variety, with yellow/green frilly leaves. Ideal for stir fry salads or pickling.

Cabbage chinese 'Natsuki' a multipurpose variety with good bolting resistance. The tender young leaves can be used in salads and stir fries in as little as 7 weeks from sowing. Best sown direct. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Cabbage chinese 'Scarvita' (F1 Hybrid) red hearted 'chinese leaves' of upright cylindrical habit. Best grown as an autumn crop for optimum quality. Sow late June to early August. Ready to harvest from 75 days. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Plant Groups