Starting your plants indoors under a lighting system is your best bet to get quality transplants to set out in the garden; however, you can purchase your transplants from your local garden center. If you are planting for a late fall harvest, plant transplants 15 to 18 weeks prior to the first winter frost. If you are planning for a late spring harvest, plant transplants at least 4-5 weeks prior to the last frost date in the spring.
Prepare the soil in your cabbage beds well in advance of the actual planting of transplants. Make sure to use copious amounts of finished compost from your own pile, or you can purchase bagged material from your nursery. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12” for best drainage results. Cabbage does not like wet feet, so make sure the soil drains well.
Cabbage plants are big and leafy, so, give them plenty of room to grow. Set your transplants at least two feet apart and mulch heavily with something light like wheat straw. Mulch with at least 4” of straw. This will keep most weeds from competing with the cabbage and it will maintain even moisture levels if you are watering properly. Mulching with straw also helps to keep the garden soil out of the cabbage head.
You have two options when it comes to feeding your cabbage plants. You can purchase a commercial fertilizer that is balanced, and apply at the labeled rates, or approximately one pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet of planted bed. You should start making your first application of fertilizer about 3 weeks after the plants were first planted. Apply fertilizer at the same rate once the cabbage heads start to form. If your plants are looking healthy, avoid fertilizer until absolutely necessary, as too much will cause the heads to split apart.
The other option is to use a side dressing of finished compost, spread evenly around the plants, to a depth of 2 inches. Make applications as necessary through the growing season. By side dressing with finished compost, you are adding beneficial micro-organisms to the soil. This will aid the plants intake of needed nutrient through the life of the plant.
Water consistently but avoid saturating the soil. Water evenly, both in quantity and in timing so that the soil does not create problems for the cabbage down the stretch. The mulch will help to retain moisture, so keep checking for the need to water prior to watering.
One pest that you need to be aware of is the cabbage looper. This is a chewing insect and will do a lot of damage if allowed to get out of control. Place sticky boards hanging from poles over the cabbage to help you identify when adults are in the area. There are several options for pest control of the cabbage looper. Please read the label of any pesticide you may consider using, even if it is branded as an “organic” control product.
Aphids are a soft bodied insect that will attack your cabbage plants new growth. If possible, release “Lady Bird Beetle” larvae around your plants just as you begin to see aphids show up. These little buggers have a voracious appetite in regard to aphids and will eat 100’s of aphids each as they grow into adult beetles.
Harvest your cabbage when heads are bigger than a softball. You can harvest them all the way up to a soccer ball size, but you shouldn’t wait too long since the heads will start to split or they could get sunburned. Rinse and process your cabbage as quickly as possible for best flavor.