Depending on who you ask, pride is either a sin (St. Augustine) or a virtue (Aristotle). As a gardener, it does not feel wrong to gloat with pride over a perfect head of cabbage, but it can get you into trouble. For example, you can become so spellbound by a savoy’s crinkled leaves or the artful veins in a red head that you spend excessive time admiring them when you should be eating them. Is this what St. Augustine meant by "a love of one’s own excellence?"
I admit to excessive pride where my cabbage is concerned. Cabbage itself is not difficult to grow, but in the varied climates of the US, finding the best planting dates can be tricky. The Garden Planner can take much of the guesswork out of when to start your seeds, which may be winter, summer or early fall.
In climates where summers rarely stay hot for long, cabbage is a straightforward crop that is planted in spring and harvested in fall, the same way it is grown in much of Europe. In hot summer areas, fall cabbage often does better than spring plantings, because the fall season offers the longest stretch of cool weather.
In my Zone 6 garden in Southwest Virginia, I get the best results by growing two crops of cabbage. The first is seeded indoors in March and set out under cloches or in a cold frame 6 weeks before my last frost. The second is seeded indoors in July and set out under row cover tunnels that protect the seedlings from insects and hail. By using fast-maturing varieties, the fall cabbage is ready just as the first frosts arrive in October.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to grow cabbage through the winter, just like they do in the UK. In Atlanta, for example, average January highs and lows (52°F/11°C – 33F/.5°C°) are quite close to those in Liverpool (44°F/6.5°C – 36°F/2°C). In much of Zone 7 and points south, you can easily bring cabbage through winter by using a light row cover during severe cold spells. Spring cabbage that grows through the winter is exceptionally sweet, and well worth the long wait for harvesting.
Cabbage varieties that produce very large heads needs two feet (60cm) or more between plants, and not many recipes call for a 5 pound head of cabbage, so I veer toward small-headed varieties like ‘Gonzales’ or ‘Alcosa’ savoy and ‘Super Red 80’, all rated at about 72 days to maturity from transplanting. These compact varieties can be grown only 14 inches (35 cm) apart, but they have a nutritional advantage, too. The outer wrapper leaves are the most nutritious part of the cabbage plant, and by growing small-headed varieties, you get more of these vitamin-packed leaves.
By Barbara Pleasant