All About Sowing and Harvesting Cabbage

Reader Contribution by Van Heems

There are several different types of cabbages, which are grouped according to when they’re harvested: spring, summer, fall, or winter. They are all hungry feeders, and need rich, firm soil improved with compost or well-rotted manure, plus a further boost of organic general-purpose fertilizer raked into the ground at planting time. Unless your soil is alkaline, add garden lime at planting time too. Winter cabbages will easily tolerate below-freezing temperatures.

In your crop rotation plan, follow cabbages on from peas or beans, which naturally lock nitrogen away at their roots. Leave these roots in the ground after harvesting to rot down and help to feed your cabbages.

Photo by Getty Images/Alexlukin

Sowing Cabbage

Sow cabbages in a nursery bed, or in plug trays or pots for an earlier start to the season.

Sow summer cabbages in mid spring, then fall and winter types later on in spring, followed by spring cabbages from the second half of summer to harvest the following year.

If sowing in a nursery bed, mark out drills about half an inch deep and six inches apart. Sow the seeds thinly along the row. Cover over with soil and water. Keep the soil moist. Thin the seedlings once they’ve germinated to one every two inches.

Or, sow two to three seeds half an inch deep in plug trays or pots of all-purpose potting soil. Thin to one seedling per cell or pot.

Transplanting Cabbage 

Transplant about six weeks after sowing, once they have grown at least three or four adult leaves. Spring cabbages should not be transplanted later than early fall, to give them time to establish before winter.

Plant your seedlings 18in apart, with 18in between rows of spring or summer cabbage, or two feet between rows of fall and winter types. Firm them in well, and water.

Caring for Cabbage

Wire mesh will protect seedlings against pigeons. In summer, use netting to prevent cabbage white butterflies from laying their eggs on the leaves. Growing nasturtiums as a sacrificial ‘trap’ crop can also help.

Keep cabbages well watered and weeded. Winter cabbages may need some form of cold protection such as a row cover tunnel or cloche in extremely cold weather. In the coldest regions, try growing winter cabbages in a greenhouse or cold frame.

How to Harvest Cabbage

Once the heads are firm, use a sharp knife to cut your cabbages. Savoy and other winter cabbages benefit from a light frost to sweeten their flavor. You can harvest spring cabbages while the heads are still loose as spring greens for repeated cutting, or leave them to grow on to form a tight head.

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