Many consider cabbage to be sort of a poor relative to broccoli. Those who study such things think that kale, broccoli and cabbage were once basically the same plant. Early gardeners selected for different characteristics, which is how we got where we are today. Cabbage pretty much a cool-weather plant. If I try to grow summer cabbage – at least in my summers – it will usually just sort of poke along in the heat and then finally head up come fall (sometimes). So cole slaw, that quintessential barbeque summer side dish, doesn’t usually show up on my table in July. My family likes cole slaw the rest of the year, which is when the cabbages taste the best, anyway.
Cabbage is a heavy eater and especially fond of nitrogen. It’s more prone to diseases if you overwater or try to grow it out of season. Choose your varieties carefully and give it what it wants – coolish weather, soil with lots of nutrients and moderate water on a consistent basis. Cabbage grown in this manner is much less susceptible to bugs and diseases. Most varieties are also very hardy, so it makes a good choice to winter over and harvest from the garden for fresh veggies.
You can grow cabbage from seed, but here’s another interesting way to keep your cabbage patch going. William Woys Weaver is another (and much better known) fan of old-fashioned heirloom vegetables and fruits. Weaver divides the cabbages in quarters and plants the cuttings. Choose the best plants – look for healthy plants, reasonable size, even growth and good taste. You can cut off a leaf or two to sample that last characteristic. Slice the plants into quarters from top to bottom. Make sure each quarter has good roots. Dip the roots in hormone rooting compound or honey water (see below) and plant in sand. Plant these in the spring just as you would seedling cabbages.Weaver says: “ This process can be continued from year to year, thus perpetuating and increasing the cabbages with the best traits. This technique is especially useful where several varieties are being grown together and there is a definite need to avoid crosses.”
Honey as Rooting Hormone
You needn’t use rooting hormone, either, if you have some honey around. Raw organic honey is the best choice, but any honey will do. Mix three parts boiling water to one part honey; stir well and put in a sealed glass container. Let cool. When you’re ready to plant some root cuttings, just put them in the honey water for a few minutes and then plant.
I must confess that although I like cabbage, I really don’t like sauerkraut. I’ve tried it made the conventional way, as well as fermented, and it just doesn’t do anything for me. If your tastes are different, make fermented sauerkraut. Fermenting is a great way to preserve this veggie. Some people don’t like the odor of cooked cabbage, produced by the sulfur compounds in the vegetable. It’s more of a problem if you cook it a long time, especially if you boil it – a quick sauté or stir-fry rarely causes problems.
Nobody in my family likes savoy cabbages (also known as Napa or Chinese cabbage), so I have no opinion on them. I’ve found these to be good varieties of regular cabbage:
- Brunswick – originally from Germany, this has been around since 1924. It’s a good winter cabbage and an excellent keeper.
- Copenhagen Market – as you might expect, this is a Danish cabbage, although it is believed to be a descendant of the German cabbage Ditmarscher. It was introduced to the US in 1909. These are big cabbages, often weighing about four pounds. It’s an excellent keeper and one that performs well in warmer areas.
- Early Jersey Wakefield – pointed rather than round-headed. It will overwinter, but really dislikes heat. It probably came from England – which may be why it likes cool weather – and was introduced in 1868 by the Peter Henderson Seed Company. It’s not a very good keeper, compared to the first two on the list.
- Golden Acre – I don’t know where the gold part comes from, as it’s a nice pastel green. Another early cabbage and one of the best-flavored. It hit the market in the 1920s.
- Red Acre – this name makes more sense, as the cabbage is a reddish purple. I can’t find any history on the variety and don’t know if the two Acre cabbages are related.
- Mammoth Red Rock – good flavor, tight heads and very little core. It’s a good keeper, and the combination of taste and keeping qualities has kept it around since 1889.
If I could only have one cabbage, it would be Golden Acre, mostly for the flavor. In a colder climate, I would probably go with Brunswick, as it’s a better winter cabbage. One of the things I have noticed through the years is that red cabbages tend to store better than the green varieties. If your garden and storage space are limited, you might want to take this into consideration.