How to Grow Big Cabbages



cabbage

Cabbage is a vegetable that is eaten around the world, in many dishes. It isn’t particularly difficult to grow, however, if you want the biggest heads of cabbage that you can get, there are some gardening tips that can help you along.

Choosing a cultivar

Not all cabbages are types that grow large heads. This should be obvious to people who buy cabbage in the store, where the heads are rarely over nine inches in diameter. Thus, if you want to have large heads of cabbage, the first step is to select cultivars that are likely to produce the largest heads. It is difficult to recommend specific kinds of cabbage since different plant nurseries are likely to use their own general name. However, many will have ‘giant’, ‘mammoth’ or similar descriptive words in the name.

Start with seedlings

Cabbage seeds can be directly sowed into the garden. However, for the largest heads, it is worthwhile to start with healthy seedlings. Brassica plants, the cabbage family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, and collards, are among the vegetables that don’t mind being transplanted. Starting the plants as seedlings can give them an early boost and since cabbage is a cold-hardy plant, they can be among the first to go into the garden.

Soil preparation

The soil should be prepared to a depth of about two feet. The root structure of cabbage normally only reaches about a foot, however by preparing the soil to twice this depth, you allow for proper drainage so the roots can get to plenty of moisture without getting water logged.

Cabbage thrives in soil that has a large amount of nitrogen, so during soil preparation, mix in plenty of organic material such as finished compost or rotted manure. These substances also help the soil to both drain better and to retain moisture. It also gives the freshly planted seedlings nutrients from the very beginning.

Water

The cabbage plants need plenty of water, though the roots shouldn’t be allowed to stand in it. Two inches of water per week and three inches during the hotter part of the year is usually a good target to shoot for.

As the weather turns hotter, it is a good idea to side dress the plants with mulch, such as grass clippings or finished compost. This keeps the roots cool while retaining moisture and feeding the plants. Cabbages can also benefit from periodically giving them a drink of stale coffee. Additionally, coffee grounds can be spread around the plants for additional high-nitrogen food. Used coffee grounds break down quickly.

Growing space

cabbage plant

For truly large heads of cabbage, it is necessary to give each plant a lot of room to grow, so it isn’t competing with other plants. This could be four square feet or more. Giving them lots of room can result in heads that can be in excess of 15-20 pounds. If you think you can’t grow a head of cabbage this large, remember that a cabbage grown in Alaska in 2009 by Steve Hubacek measured 21 inches in diameter and weighed just less than 126 pounds.  Another cabbage grown in Wales in 1989 weighed 124 pounds. In comparison, a 20 pound head of cabbage is small.

Avoid splitting

Assuming that the plant is well nourished, is growing in well-draining soil, has full sunlight and gets lots of water, it should produce large heads. However, many people have issues with the developing heads splitting. This can be avoided.

Splitting occurs when there is a period of hot weather and this is followed by suddenly giving the cabbage too much water. The plant absorbs water fast and as the leaves swell, they can rip. To avoid this, make sure that the cabbage plant is getting plenty of water all along, so it doesn’t suddenly get too much. Splitting tomatoes can have the same cause. The idea is to set a watering routine that allows the plants to have enough water regardless of how hot the weather becomes.

Some people who routinely grow giant heads of cabbage often even use a drip irrigation system for the cabbages, to furnish them with a constant supply of water, without over-watering. Drip irrigation systems are easy to put in, they save in the amount of water that is used, they provide the right amount of water for the plants, and they aren’t expensive. The kit shown below costs less than $30 and it is available here.

drip irrigation

Koram IR-D Blank Distribution Tubing Watering Drip Kit, 1/4-Inches

Controlling insect pests

Probably the biggest insect pests that cabbages have are cabbage worms and cabbage lopers. These are the larvae or caterpillars of moths. If you start noticing holes in the leaves, there is probably a problem with these pests. Examine the plants carefully, especially on the underside of leaves, for these small green worms or caterpillars. When you find one, pull it off and kill it. Putting netting over the cabbages can discourage the moths from laying eggs, too.

Grasshoppers can also cause substantial damage. These are a bit harder to control, though netting can help. If the outbreak is severe, the cabbages can be sprayed with a solution of Neem oil and water. This is a natural pesticide that comes from a tree. It doesn’t prevent grasshoppers, cabbage worms, and lopers from eating the cabbage, but it prevents them from drawing nourishment from the cabbage and eventually kills them.

Growing giant heads of cabbage is surprisingly simpler than most people would think. If the plant is of the right kind and provided that it gets lots of sunshine, water, and nitrogen, plus the space to grow in, the chances are excellent that you can grow large heads of cabbage that will dwarf those that are available at the store.

 


 

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