Goldfields gardens: how to get the best out of your cabbage patch

Lilian WaltersKalgoorlie Miner
Norma Feast of Boulder and her garden. Cabbage
Camera IconNorma Feast of Boulder and her garden. Cabbage Credit: Kalgoorlie Miner

Cabbages, Brassica oleracea, are pale-dark-green, red, or purple biennials with crinkle leaf, loose-headed and smooth leaf, firm-headed varieties.

They are closely related to broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Cabbages were domesticated from wild cabbage in Europe before 1000BC.

Savoys were not developed until the 1500s.

Cabbages are selectively bred for head weight, frost hardiness, fast growth, storage ability, disease/pest resistance and nutritional content.

Red cabbage isolated on white background
Camera IconRed cabbage isolated on white background Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Choose a spot for growing cabbages with at least six hours direct sunlight but protected from strong wind.

Heat-tolerant varieties, such as sugarloaf, cope better with summer heat but prefer afternoon shade.

Sudden, extreme heat causes cabbages to “bolt”.

Cabbages prefer rich, well-drained soil (pH 6.5-7.5). Add compost and sulphur to alkaline soil and lime to strongly acidic soil. If club-root has been a problem, aim for a pH greater than 7.5.

Cabbages are greedy feeders, so add plenty of rotted manure, and a handful of both blood and bone and potash per square metre.

Cabbages usually follow nitrogen-fixing legumes in crop rotations.

What to plant this weekend

  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Chilli
  • Cucumber
  • Mint
  • Eggplant
  • Lemongrass
  • Lettuce
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Cabbages are easily grown from seed by sowing directly in the soil. Cabbage roots prefer firm soil. Prepare by treading the ground heavily. Rake to a fine tilth and press with the handle to create furrows 10mm deep and 15cm apart.

Plant in furrows and cover with sieved compost. Water in well and keep moist until seeds germinate (6-12 days). Thin seedlings 60-80cm apart.

Seedlings are transplanted at six weeks when they have 3-4 adult leaves, with as much soil around the roots as possible. This minimises root disturbance. Don’t forget to harden off seedlings before transplanting.

I’ve always planted deep, right up to the first leaves. This strengthens the stems of leggy or crooked plants, helps establish better root systems, and minimises wind damage.

Plant succession crops every two weeks.

Cabbage
Camera IconCabbage Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Feed plants weekly with fish emulsion, compost tea or liquid seaweed at half strength.

Try making comfrey tea by soaking leaves for several days to draw out the nutrients.

Use pea straw, Lucerne or lupin mulch to retain moisture, prevent nutrient leaching, keep the roots cool, and suppress weeds.

Water two to three times weekly but don’t overwater or the heads will split.

Uneven watering leads to stunted or cracked heads.

Cut back watering as the plants mature. Harvest when heads feel hard (10-14 weeks).

Tip of the week

  • Mark your rake handles at 10cm intervals and use as planting measures

Cut out the head with a sharp knife. Leave the large, outer leaves on the plant and the “stump” will sprout up to five mini cabbages. These are harvested at the size of a tennis ball. Before composting stalks, hammer them flat to accelerate decomposition.

Cabbages can be grown as micro-greens. Plant seedlings in a windowsill pot. They can be harvested with scissors within 2-3 weeks.

Cabbages make good companion plants for bush-beans, beetroot, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, marigold, nasturtium, onions, peas, potatoes, rhubarb and aromatic herbs.

Avoid growing close to capsicum, chilli, climbing-beans, eggplant, mustard, parsnip, strawberry or tomatoes.

Cabbages are attacked by almost everything: aphids, slugs, grasshoppers, root-knot nematodes, thrips, harlequin bugs, and cabbage moths.

Netting helps. Cabbage white caterpillars can be removed by hand. Grow nasturtiums as a sacrificial crop. Sage, rosemary and radishes deter some pests.

Organic sprays can be made from garlic, olive-oil, chilli or neem oil mixed with water and a squirt of liquid soap.

I am told because cabbage moths are territorial, they choose to lay eggs away from their peers.

Some gardeners hang elastic strings of bread clips or plastic twists to flutter in the wind and deter cabbage moths.

Cold, wet soil encourages fungal diseases including downy mildew, blackleg, clubroot, and yellows.

Plant disease-resistant varieties or hot-water treated seeds. Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.

Don’t plant where cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale or Brussels sprouts grew in the past two years.

Cabbage is prone to nutrient deficiencies (boron, potassium, phosphorus and calcium), which can lead to internal tip burn, necrotic spot or pepper spot.

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