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Two cabbages growing in a garden bed
Cabbage is often overlooked due to its reputation of being a boiled vegetable. But it’s so much more! It takes on wonderful flavours when cooked in other ways or fermented, but can be enjoyed in fresh salads too. It forms attractive tight- or loose-leaf heads and can weigh 1–6kg, depending on the variety.


What you need to know about cabbage

Name: cabbage, Brassica oleracea (Capitata group).

Height: 30–50cm, depending on the variety.

Plant type: annual leafy vegetable.

Foliage: large, broad leaves that may be smooth or crinkled with a slightly waxy finish.

Climate: tropical, sub-tropical, warm and cool temperate.

Soil: moist, well-drained soil, enriched with compost and well-aged manure.

Position: full sun, with protection from strong winds.

Flowering: small yellow flowers.

Feeding: liquid feed regularly throughout the growing season.

Watering: water regularly.

Appearance and characteristics of cabbage

Cabbage is an attractive leafy vegetable that typically grows into a tight- or loose-leaf head. The leaves can be light green, dark green, red or purple. The leaves can also be smooth or deeply wrinkled, with a slight waxy finish. Small yellow flowers appear on long stalks in the centre of the cabbage plant. They may appear prematurely when the plant is stressed or there is a sudden increase in the temperature. 

Flowers are not desired – unless collecting cabbage seed – as this is a sign the plant is nearing the end of its life, and the leaves become resultingly bitter.

Cut red and white cabbages on a wooden table

How to use cabbage

Enjoy cabbage raw, cooked in stir fries, stuffed into dumplings, pickled or fermented into sauerkraut or kimchi. It’s perfect shaved into salads or a classic coleslaw.

How to grow cabbage

Cabbage loves cool conditions, so grows best over autumn, winter and early spring. In cool climates, it’s possible to grow cabbage year-round. Varieties like ‘Sugarloaf’ and ‘Red Drumhead’ are more tolerant of heat, so are ideal for growing in warmer areas. 

Choose a spot in full sun, with well-drained soil. Prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter like compost and well-aged manure prior to planting. Sow seeds, lightly cover and water in well. Keep the soil moist throughout germination. Thin seedlings to 30–50cm apart, depending on the final size of your chosen variety.

Caring for cabbage

If growing through warmer months, protect crops on hot days by erecting a shade cloth. Sudden changes in temperature and/or moisture stress can cause cabbage to prematurely bolt. This will cause the leaves to change in flavour, becoming bitter and inedible. 

Feed and water well throughout the growing season. Inconsistent watering or fertiliser applications can result in heads not forming properly or growing poorly.

How often should you water and feed cabbage?

Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Cabbage leaves are mostly made up of water, so will wilt without adequate hydration. Spread an organic mulch over the beds to help conserve soil moisture.

Apply a light dressing of a complete organic fertiliser every 3–4 weeks. Supplement with a weekly feed of liquid fertiliser that’s suitable for leafy greens and vegies.

Diseases and pests that affect cabbage

There are a few pests that can trouble cabbage. The larvae, or caterpillars, of the cabbage white butterfly or cabbage moth can chew holes in leaves, completely decimating them. Treat caterpillars with an organic spray, like Dipel. Aphids and whitefly can also be problem pests but can be treated with Beat-A-Bug or Natrasoap.

Protect cabbage from snails and slugs using snail and slug baits. Reapply after wet weather.

How and when to harvest cabbage

Harvest times can vary between varieties. Early maturing cabbage varieties can be harvested in 12 weeks, but later varieties can take up to 15–20 weeks. Cabbage can be picked earlier than maturity or left to grow into full-sized heads.

To harvest, cut the head at the base with a sharp knife. Store the cabbage head whole until ready for use, as cutting it will decrease its shelf life. If it needs to be cut, store the remains in a tightly sealed wrap and refrigerate in the crisper. Alternatively, ferment or freeze to preserve.

How to propagate cabbage

Cabbage grows best from seeds or seedlings. Always check the label for suitable planting times and when to expect a harvest.

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets. 

If you like this then try

Parsnip: a delicious, earthy vegie that also requires a bit of patience to grow.

Fennel: the sweet aniseed flavours are ideal for salads and roasts.

Silverbeet: a year-round performer with a long harvest window.

Start growing today

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Health & Safety

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