Variety Spotlight: Organic Cabbage

Nothing says I love you like a cabbage (to paraphrase Farmer Paul Betz, one of our commercial grower representatives and owner of High Ledge Farm).  Here’s what’s great about one of the most rock solid, high performing (yet often under-appreciated) vegetables.

Cabbages are versatile.

A few years ago, I had no idea there were so many different types of cabbage.  How wrong I was. Let me count the ways… the depth and breadth and height of how this one crop can fill so many culinary niches: there are the tender, sweet fresh market cabbages, the crinkley savoy cabbages, cabbages for kraut, cabbages for storing into the winter, slaw cabbages and stir-fry cabbages.

Fresh market cabbage

Caraflex F1, Farao F1 and Primax are sweet, juicy and tender and are excellent eaten raw – in a salads or slaws.  They tend to be smaller and more compact in size since they are meant to be eaten fresh, not stored or processed.  This can make them more manageable since they can be used up in one meal or two, rather than taking up ½ a shelf in the fridge like some of the storage cabbages do.

The trick with these fresh market cabbages is to harvest them before they split.  The juiciness that makes these fresh market cabbages so delicious is due to higher water content.  If there’s a lot of rain when they are at or near maturity, the excess moisture can cause them to crack.  They are still useable if this happens, but just not marketable.  But these cabbages are so appealing that they are well worth the small amount of vigilance. Drago F1, though not as early maturing and not quite as tender, makes a good fresh market cabbage without a tendency to split.

Sauerkraut

Varieties that are suited for making sauerkraut like Kaitlin F1 have high dry matter and are much less juicy than the fresh market types.

Storage Cabbages

Storage cabbages like Impala F1, Kaitlin F1 and Buscaro F1 have thicker, waxier wrapper (exterior) leaves and denser interiors.  These are long season cabbages, generally planted 3 to 4 months before the first frosts in your area.  The waxy wrapper leaves help protect the cabbage from pest damage and also help retain moisture and maintain quality during storage. Generally, longer season cabbages sit higher on their stems (whereas the fresh market cabbages sit flat on the ground).  This is a desirable trait because it helps prevent moisture getting trapped under the bottom leaves, which can lead to disease.

Cabbages are adaptable.

Cabbage is a cold-hardy and frost tolerant vegetable.  It can be one of the first plants that you sow in the early in the spring and one of the last crops that you harvest into the frosts of fall.  Quicker maturing, fresh market cabbage like Primax, Farao F1 and Copenhagen mature in 65 days or less and can tolerate moderately warm temperatures (up to about 80 degrees) Plant these varieties successionally throughout the growing season for a continuous harvest.

If you desire storage cabbages, it requires some planning ahead.  For our area of northern Vermont, where our first frost usually arrives between the end of September and early October, we seed our storage cabbage varieties in mid to late June for transplanting in early July.

Especially cold-hardy varieties like Famosa F1, Buscaro F1 and Impala F1 can be left in the field to withstand a few light frosts.  Savoyed cabbages, like Famosa F1 in particular, improve in leaf texture and sweeten in flavor after undergoing several frosts.

Cabbages are nutritious.

At last year’s annual Kingdom Farm & Food Field Day at High Mowing’s Trials Garden, tour guide Jan led visitors on a tour of the cabbage patch. “Red cabbages”, he informed the group, “are higher in anthocyanin than blueberries”.  “Great,” quipped a voice from the crowd, “but do you have a recipe for red cabbage pie?” So, while blueberries might still have the flavor (and dessert) advantage, it is still good to know that cabbage reigns nutritionally supreme.

Cabbage is notably high in Vitamin C and Sinigrin (a glusinolate that may prevent cancer).  Savoy cabbage is particulary high in Sinigrin.  Steaming, eating raw, or cooking for a short amount of time are the best ways to get the most of these cabbage nutrients.

Cabbages come in all shapes and sizes.

Cabbages like Primax and Red Express produce small heads weight 2-3 pounds.  Other cabbages like Impala F1 and Capture F1 produce large heads weighing around 6 pounds.  “Sweetheart” types, like Caraflex F1, are unique due to their pointed head and attractive outer leaf curl.

Many cabbage varieties will let you play with planting density a bit to affect the size of the head, which can be a nice trick if your market or your table prefers smaller heads in the summer but larger heads in the fall. In our Trial Gardens, we have planted Red Express, Famosa F1 and Farao F1 at 8” spacing in rows 12-15” apart to get compact heads and an earlier harvest.

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6 Responses to Variety Spotlight: Organic Cabbage

  1. John Bliss says:

    It would be great to learn also about your approach to pests. Thanks for the info!

  2. Aaron Dalton says:

    Totally agree with Mr. Bliss’s comment above.

    I tried growing mustard greens and collard greens (cabbage family) this spring. While we did get good early harvests from the mustard greens, cabbage loopers eventually destroyed both crops.

    I prefer not to use any pesticides, but do you recommend Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)? Or are there any predator insects that can be released to control the loopers? Or do you just grow your cabbage in some sort of protected environment like a greenhouse?

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Brassica pests can be tricky, and the attractiveness of a beautiful leaf or head can really be marred by lots of munched holes. In our Trials & Showcase fields, we use two approaches for dealing with brassica pests. One approach is exclusion: we cover transplanted and direct seeded brassica crops with row cover immediately after planting. With quick maturing, leafy crops like mustard greens, arugula and radishes, we leave the row cover on until harvest. Later maturing crops like cabbage and broccoli, we take the row cover off after several weeks in order to get rid of the weeds that have inevitably benefited from the warm, protected environment under the row cover. Once row cover is off (or, in the regrettable cases where we’re too busy to put it on in the first place), we resort to our second approach: spraying. We use OMRI approved products for pest control: usually Pyganic (botanical pesticide derived from chrysanthemums) for flea beetles or Dipel (biological insecticide based on a naturally occurring compound Bacillus thuringiensis) for cabbage worms. We use a 2 gallon Solo handheld pump sprayer or a 4.5 gallon Shindaiwa backpack sprayer to apply the pesticides. For more info on brassica pest control, check out our past newsletter article on cabbage worms http://www.highmowingseeds.com/How-To-Get-Rid-of-Imported-Cabbage-Worm.html. Good luck! – Gwenael

  3. Yvonne Hursh says:

    I really like your newsletter; it’s the best one I receive.
    The news about the striped cuke beetle is so valuable.
    I had yellow virus in my garlic this year and had to burn it all as it stunk, but I think the only way to try to avoid it is to buy sets from a reputable company, and even then, it’s “iffy” as I always try to do that. But I’ll definitely never plant table garlic from the grocers.
    I always plant OP tomatoes [mostly heirlooms] and last year I piled all the residue in a new bed for composting overwinter. This spring that bed was FULL of tomato plants and I got the earliest fruit from that bed – after thinning. I intend to try doing that intentionally this fall, putting the seeds where I want them to grow so that the plants can be trellised…these are on top of mulch, leaving much to be desired, and I’ll pull them when the trellised plants begin bearing..

  4. Brian Boyce says:

    we are actually looking for a more juicy, more green later maturing larger cabbage. kaitlin will not work for our application…which of the the others should we try??

    Very thorough cabbage write up BTW :) BB

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Hi, Brian:
      Yes, Kaitlin is has very dry flesh, not at all juicy, best for making sauerkraut. I would recommend both Drago F1 or Capture F1 for a tender, late maturing green cabbage. Both are dual purpose – fresh market eating with some storagability. Capture F1 has more disease resistance (Black Rot, Fusarium Yellows, Thrips) and heads are slightly larger than Drago’s but can be spaced closer or further for smaller or larger heads. Hope that helps – let us know which you decide to grow and how it does for you!

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