The Kitchen Garden A to Z: Cabbage

Cabbage

I’m working through my kitchen garden from A to Z. Here’s my guide to growing, harvesting, cooking, and preserving cabbage.

Cabbage

When it comes to cruciferous vegetables, cabbage is king. Cabbage plants produce huge, showy heads that hold their own amongst ornamentals. Cousin to kale, broccoli, cauliflower, the cabbage has sustained the populace for thousands of years. There’s a reason for that. It’s easy to grow, and it packs a punch of nutrients.

cabbage in the garden

Bed of cabbage plants with radishes planted in between

Cabbage in the Garden

Cabbage is a good vegetable for new gardeners – it grows fast and is fun to watch as it forms giant heads. Cabbage is a cool weather crop that tolerates some frost. It can be planted in the early spring for a late spring harvest and again in the late summer for a fall harvest.

One downside is that the plants attract moths that lay eggs on the leaves. For organic pest control, protect plants with floating row cover.

See how fast cabbage grows:

cabbage plant

May 3

cabbage

May 27

cabbage

June 7

Planting Cabbage: Cabbage grows best when started indoors and transplanted to the garden. Either buy seedlings from a nursery or, for a more frugal option, plant seeds in peat pots indoors six to eight weeks before transplanting outside. Try Copenhagen Market, a Dutch heirloom variety suitable for most home gardens. For fall gardens, Late Flat Dutch is a good choice.

Planting tips:

  • Seedlings can be transplanted outdoors about four weeks before the last frost date when daytime temperatures reach 50°F. The seedlings should have at least three leaves when transplanted.
  • Plant in a sunny spot in the garden. Avoid planting in the same spot within three years. For a beneficial crop rotation, plant cabbage where onions or other root crops were planted the previous year and follow it with beans, peas, or leafy greens the next year.
  • If short on garden space, plant radish seeds between cabbage seedlings (see photo above). The radishes will be ready to harvest before the cabbage plants overtake the space.
  • Plant marigolds, dill, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, geraniums or nasturtiums near cabbage to rebel pests.
  • Space the plants 18 inches apart. Cabbage has shallow roots, so mulch around the plants to keep the soil moist. Pull weeds by hand instead of using a hoe to avoid damaging the roots.
  • Water plants regularly to prevent the heads from splitting. Irregular watering causes irregular growth, which results in split heads. When watering during dry stretches, avoid watering the foliage because wet leaves are prone to disease.

Harvesting Cabbage: The heads should be harvested when they feel solid and have good color. If not harvested in time, they will split.

To harvest, cut the stem with a sharp knife leaving two to three outer leaves to prevent the head from bruising.

The heads can be stored for up to three to four months in a high-humidity refrigerator drawer. Keep the outer leaves intact and do not wash before storing for best results.

Season-extending tip: When harvesting the head, leave the stem, roots, and four or more leaves in place at the base of the plant. Cut a shallow X into the top of the stump. The plant will produce a second crop of several small heads.

Cabbage regrowth

Small head that grew where the first head was cut from the plant

Cabbage in the Kitchen

Cabbage is pretty darn close to a super food. It’s low in calories and high in fiber, which is a good combination for healthy weight loss.  It’s also low on the glycemic scale, making it a good choice for those who want to control their blood sugar levels.

A one cup serving of raw shredded cabbage contains 17 calories and is an excellent source of vitamins C and K. (Back in the day, sailors relied on cabbage to prevent scurvy.) It’s also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Cabbage has been a home remedy for ulcers and has been shown in studies to lower the risk of some cancers, including breast and lung.

Cabbage stir-fry

Cabbage stir-fried with chard, carrots, green peppers, celery, and onions

Ribs and coleslaw

Coleslaw and BBQ ribs, a classic combination (along with smashed new potatoes)

Here are some easy ways to prepare cabbage:

  • For coleslaw, start with shredded cabbage and add additional ingredients in unexpected combinations of flavor and texture.  A couple of ideas to get you started are green apples with red bell pepper or green grapes with toasted pecans.  Toss everything with a homemade dressing: Whisk together 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir-fry sliced cabbage with sliced onions and green peppers until crisp tender.  Season with black pepper and salt or soy sauce and sriracha.  Serve as a side dish to pork entrees (I especially like this preparation with bratwurst, but that may just be the Iowa girl in me).
  • Use shredded raw cabbage in tacos or on sandwiches and hamburgers as you would lettuce. For additional flavor, season with a little red wine vinegar.
  • Finely shred raw red cabbage and season liberally with salt and pepper. Use it as a base for grilled meat or fish.  The heat and juices from the meat will wilt the cabbage, making it a nice vegetable accompaniment to the meat.
  • Add chopped cabbage to soups and stews. (It’s a key ingredient in my signature vegetable soup.)
My signature vegetable soup

My signature vegetable soup

Preserving Cabbage

As noted above, fresh cabbage will keep for several months in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. But if you have more cabbage than refrigerator space, there are a few ways you can preserve it.

Freezing: Cut heads into wedges. Blanch for 2 minutes, cool in an ice water bath for 2 minutes, drain, and store in freezer bags. Once thawed, the cabbage can be used in soups and stews or other recipes that call for cooking cabbage. Note: Thawed cabbage will not have the same consistency as fresh and would not be suitable in recipes that call for uncooked cabbage, like coleslaw.

Dehydrating: Shred the cabbage. Steam or blanch for 90 seconds just before spreading it out on the drying tray of an electric dehydrator, Dehydrate on low (100-110°F) until dry and crisp. Store in an airtight contained in a cool, dark place.

Pickling: Making sauerkraut is the classic way to preserve cabbage. I have to be honest, though; my one and only attempt at sauerkraut was a complete disaster. So I’ve asked my friends over at the Homestead Bloggers Network to share their sauerkraut success stories. Here is a sampling:

Cabbage head

A cabbage patch girl?

Coming up next in the series: One of my garden favorites, the carrot.

This post was shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

  • Bill

    We are so far behind on gardening. The quail are taking up most of my “free” time. I’m building a raised bed out of pallets this afternoon and then we’ll finish our planting tomorrow. Now hope for hot weather.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Bill, but now it’s time to step away from the computer and get your garden in. : ) (I’m one to talk, right?!) Have a great weekend!

  • Shauna Bowling

    I love cabbage and it’s so good for the body. I love your recipe for cole slaw, especially the dressing. Adding fruit to the mix sounds delicious and eliminates having to put sugar in the dressing.

    That cabbage in front of your face is huge! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that big.

    • I seem to have a knack for growing cabbage, Shauna. I always end up with ginormous heads! Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a great weekend.

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