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Growing cabbages in your home garden can be quite rewarding and produces an excellent fresh and tasty food available nearly year around. This growing guide can be used for the commondly grown closely related plants of the cabbage family. They are sometimes referred to as cole crops. These plants are the Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, and Cauliflower. With the exception of cauliflower, which is quite sensitive to cold in the spring, all of these these plants are very hardy and can withstand light frost. Cauliflower is also sensitive to summer heat.
GARDEN SOIL AND PREPARATION:
Cabbage plants require a fertile loose well drained moist soil in direct full sunshine for opitimun plant growth and head developenent. Six to eight hours of full sun is needed for best growth. Lime in the soil is usually required because our garden soils tend to be acidic. Powdered Dolimite limestone is recommended. Follow the label on the bag for application instructions. And plenty of composted organic materal should be added and mixed well into the soil as well. Gabbage plants are heavy feeders and fertility requirements are relatively high. They develope best with ample water with one to one and half inches of water per week for optimum growth.
The soil pH should be between 6.0 to 6.8.
While cabbage seeds can be planted directly in the garden, it is not recommened because of our usually cold rainy spring weather. All of these plants can be started from seeds sown indoors about six weeks before planting in the garden. A cold frame outside, a sunny window or under fluorescent lights in a cool room such as a basement or unheated garage will work fine. Germinating the seeds before planting helps save time. Germinate the seeds, plant and grow under cool conditions. Start seeds indoors at least 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date for your garden area. For early types this means March through June. Late maturing varieties should be started late May through early June to allow the heads to form during the cooler temperatures of the fall months. Although cabbage can withstand wide temperature variations, the soil temperature should be about 65 degrees F for planting the seeds. Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep, and spaced about three inches apart or in separate containers.
HOW TO PLANT:
Cabbages are a hardy, cool season plant that grows well in our Pacific Northwest gardens. All of these members of the Cabbage Family grows well under our under cool, moist growing conditions. Cabbage plants are best started in cold frames or indoors, and then transplanted in the garden. Do not plant these plants too deeply. Plant so the root ball is covered by no more than 3/4 inches of soil. And place a 2 inch collar of wrapped newspaper around the stem of each plant at the point where the soil line will be. Place at least 1/2 inch of the collar below the soil line. This collar will be a barrier to cutworms and other pests. Transplants can be set out in the garden anytime between March 25 and the end of April. But, if the spring warm-up is late, delay planting a week or so. And if a frost does threaten after planting, protect the young plants with a clouch or an individual cap.
For a fall crop set the plants out around the end of July or early August. Select and plant the best developed cabbage seedlings in the garden about 16 to 24 inches apart, 16 inches for early varieties and 24 for late varieties. The rows should be 2-3 feet apart. Spacing depends upon the size of the variety when full grown.
Plant broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower 18 to 24 inches apart.
A mulch of shredded leaves or dried grass is desireable to keep the soil cool and to help in weed control.
As soon as cauliflower flower heads appear and begin to form they must be covered to keep them white. One method is to gather together the cauliflower leaves and tie them loosely above the developing flower head.
SOME RECOMMENED VARIETIES:
Red cabbage : Roma
Regular season : Stonehead
Late season : Houston
Hand picking of these pesty worms is the perfered method of control. Or spray plants with Bacillus thuringiensis or BT, a biological control agent, to control light infestations. For heavy infestations, mix 1 tablespoon of BT into one gallon of water. Apply to the soil around the plants. Bacillus theringiensis is generally non toxic to humans.
HARVESTING AND STORAGE:
Early cabbage types mature and burst open quickly when mature. So they must be harvested promptly when ready. Later types which mature in late Summer or Fall will hold for much longer. When cutting the heads from the stems, leave two or three of the wrapper leaves to ptotect the heads from bruising. A word of caution: over-mature heads are subject to splitting, especially if they are exposed to moisture fluctuations.
Late varieties will keep for up to 6 months when kept at 32 degrees F, and 98-100% relative humidity. And early varieties will store for only 1-2 months.
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