Home Cabbage Cultivation

Social cachet may not be among them, but cabbage cultivation offers multiple advantages: The plant is productive, nutritious, visually appealing and easy to grow.

| April/May 2009

Home cabbage cultivation isn’t what it used to be. One popular national catalog this year features 31 varieties of tomatoes, 19 peppers, and a whopping two types of cabbage. But don’t fret! Many varieties of cabbage are still available from other sources.

What cabbage lacks in sex appeal and trendiness, it more than makes up for in dependability and productivity, two qualities that position it for a rebound in tough economic times. You may or may not get that temperamental crop of Brandywine tomatoes or heat-loving jalapeños, but with a little work and care, you can always count on cabbage. And people have done just that throughout the ages.

In ancient times, cabbage was king. The Roman soldier and statesman Cato the Elder may have been its most vocal and passionate advocate. Cato touted cabbage as a pre-emptive hangover cure, urging his compatriots to eat large quantities of it raw with vinegar as an appetizer to counter the effects of heavy eating and drinking. Its medicinal qualities were so powerful, Cato claimed, that they transformed habitual cabbage eaters’ urine into a salve that could be applied to sores and used for bathing sickly newborns. One can only imagine if Cato were alive today and writing seed catalog descriptions!

Cabbage’s greatest virtue throughout the ages, though, has been as a reliable source of sustenance and vitamins during the cold months of the year. From ancient times to the present, east to west and north to south, cabbage has been a staple for farmers, peasants, and homesteaders. It withstands the last frosts of spring, the first frosts of fall, and stores well in a cold cellar. It can be shredded and eaten raw in the form of coleslaw, cooked in soups and stews, or pickled into sauerkraut or kimchi, sauerkraut’s spicy Asian equivalent.

You can try many types of cabbage. The most popular types in the United States are the smooth-leaved green and red varieties that form round, compact heads. Savoy varieties — smooth cabbage’s wrinkled, crinkled cousins — have been gaining popularity as eaters become more adventuresome in both their tastes and textures. For those people who really want to “think outside the ball,” there are curious cone-shaped types and the upright Chinese and Napa varieties, which are in fact more closely related to turnips.

Simple to Grow

Cabbage plants can be started easily from seed, either indoors in flats for spring transplanting or directly into the soil for late and storage varieties. The advantage to growing from seed is you have a much wider selection of varieties than the seedlings you’re likely to find at a local greenhouse or farmers market.

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