Cabbages are part of the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cauli and Brussels sprout. This means they are gross feeders (gross meaning greedy or hungry in a gardening context, not revolting) growing best in heavily fertilised soils, rich in nitrogen. To hold up their large heads on a single stem requires a good root system in firm soil so get the ground right from the start. You can plant for most of the year in warmer areas, though we avoid summer for the brassica family to avoid problems with white butterfly. Cabbage can be grown from seed sown directly into the ground or from small plants. Don’t get too carried away – consider how many cabbages you want to eat. They can be difficult to give away. Every plant is also going to need about half a metre clearance all round to give it space to grow. Cabbages take two to three months to mature so planted now, will be ready in winter.
However, for those of us are who are less than enthusiastic about large heads of cabbage with lots of white stalky centre bits (there is only so much cole slaw and stir fried cabbage one can eat), there is a much larger range available now for the home gardener. There used to be a choice of large red, green or crinkly savoy. Now there are a number of mini growing varieties available with heads around 1kg instead of up to 4kg for the larger types. There are also conehead types with softer leaves, assorted quick maturing Chinese cabbages and even the Italian Cavolo nero (which is more like kale). Check out the Kings Seeds catalogue for a good range which might encourage a rethink on the role of this vegetable garden standby.
For the record, we do not for one minute think there is any truth to the current theory that white butterflies are territorial so can be discouraged by eggshells on sticks. Wishful thinking.
First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.