Every family has a go-to person who is reliable, dependable and easy-going. In the brassica family, cabbages assume the role. It is one of the world’s oldest crops, too, with reports saying it was domesticated in Europe from a paddock as far back as 1000 BC.
Chances are if you have a little dirt under your fingernails, you have been or are a cabbage grower. These non-fuss, sometimes overlooked vegetables are a staple in gardens all over the world. Varying in shapes and sizes, from tennis ball-sized through to varieties that you almost need the wheelbarrow to move and harvest, cabbages are a versatile vegetable that need a wider fan club. Eaten raw, pickled, sliced or diced are fairly common uses. For an alternative, try cutting them into wedges or in half, and roasting drizzled with oil, butter and garlic. Try keeping the leaves whole and blanching them, then use them as a wrap for savoury minced meat dishes.
Now, before the soil cools down dramatically, is the right time to get fresh rows of seedlings into the ground to maximise the amount of growth before winter knocks on the door. Cabbages are hardy to both hot and cold temperatures, making them a brilliant crop for the greenhouse in the shoulder seasons after tomatoes, cucumbers and the like have finished. When harvesting, cut the head off just above the big bottom leaves. If you leave the stumps in the ground, new smaller cabbages will eventually form. They are tasty, but never seem to bulk up that well. They take about three months to fully mature from planting and once ready they will hold in the garden for a number of weeks over the cold months.
Never neglect your roots, and even though brassicas will tolerate extremes in hot and cold, and dry and wet soils, it doesn’t mean they like it. Ideally the soil should be able to hold onto plenty of moisture. This is important if you like juicy, sweet cabbage. Ideally the soil should be rich and have a high component of organic matter, such as compost, peat or well-rotted manure.
Types to grow
Savoy has a lovely crinkly textured leaf and has a slightly sweeter taste. It can also be a bit quicker to grow as it never forms a really tight head. ‘Dutch Red’ and ‘Red Rooster’ are both reliable red/purple cabbages to grow in well-prepared rich soils. Allow a good 50-70cm between each plant as the outer leaves love room to spread. ‘Flower of Spring’ and ‘Cannonball’ are brilliant drumhead cabbages to seek. If space is at a premium, the miniature varieties, such as ‘Cabbage Space Saver’, are worth planting.
If you are still unsure why you should plant cabbage, you could plant them just for their looks alone. The texture and form are bold and captivating and, over winter, it is OK to just look and not touch. Or maybe the health benefits will get you across the line, as cabbages are rich in vitamin C and a very good source of manganese. And, did you know, steamed cabbage is better for your digestive system than fried cabbage?
White butterflies, slugs and snails are the worst enemies of cabbages. The slimeballs are active all year round, so always lay bait when planting out new rows. Sadly these hungry critters don’t pack up over winter. As for the caterpillars, preventing the white butterflies from landing helps immensely, and nets are brilliant for this.