How to start your own cabbage plants and grow them up into heads

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Last Updated: 
April 2, 2007
savoy cabbage

Savoy Express cabbage. Photo courtesy of All-American Selections.

CORVALLIS - Mid-March through May is a good time to start early and mid-season cabbage seed indoors. Start seeds indoors at the early end of spring if you are on the coast. In colder regions of the state, start them about six weeks before the last frost or when your soil temperature exceeds 50 degrees.

The most common cabbages seen in grocery stores are the green cabbages, including Danish, domestic and pointed varieties. But there are dozens of other varieties available in seed catalogs and in nurseries for the home gardener, including varieties of Savoy, Bok Choy, Napa, and red varieties. Ornamental cabbages, also known as flowering kales, are grown as fall and winter landscape plants and salad bar decorations.

Savoy cabbage is stronger tasting, has a looser head than most green cabbages and has wrinkly leaves with ruffled edges. Bok Choy is an open Chinese cabbage with white or green celery-like stalks and shiny dark green leaves. Napa forms an elongated head and is pale green, with mild flavored delicately crinkled leaves.

Some cabbage varieties are termed "early," meaning they are fast-growing, earlier maturing and smaller in size. "Mid-season" cabbages are larger, later to mature and must be well established before summer heat sets in. Transplant cabbage both early and mid-season starts into the ground in May and June.

For a late fall, winter and spring crop in the milder regions of the state, "late" types can be grown. Sow seed for late varieties in May, and transplant them out in June through July.

Chinese cabbage bolts with excessive exposure to cool weather in early spring and lengthening days, and is best planted in early summer for fall harvest.

Transplants can also be purchased from your local nursery or garden store. Always select plants with stem diameters smaller than a lead pencil to reduce the risk of bolting. Set transplants outside during the day for a week to harden them before transplanting.

Cabbage thrives in a sunny, well-drained, loam soil heavily amended with organic matter. Cabbage are heavy feeders and require uniform moisture. Keep soil pH above 6.8 to avoid club root, a damaging fungal disease. Space plants about 15 to 18 inches apart for optimal growth. Hot caps or floating row covers help early cabbages thrive. The floating row covers eliminate a lot of the pests on young cabbage like root maggot and flea beetles, which can completely destroy young seedlings.

The Oregon State University Extension Service has tested and recommends the following cabbage varieties as performing well in Oregon:

(early) Dynamo, Parel, Primax, Arrowhead, Capricorn, Farao, Tendersweet.

(main season) Golden Acre, Bravo, Charmant.

(late fall, winter) Danish Ballhead, Storage Hybrid #4, Blue Thunder.

(red) Ruby Perfection, Regal Red, Red Acre.

(savoy) Melissa, Savoy Express, Savoy Ace, Kilosa.

Chinese Cabbage: Michihili, Monument, China Express, China Flash, (Pak choi) Mei Qing Choy, Joi Choi.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Deborah Kean