(Genus: Cappuccino Brassica Oleracea capitata - Family: Brassicaceae)
Cabbage and its origins
Cabbage is a herbaceous biennial, it is available in many variants which differ in shape and size but is distinguished by its abundance of rich, waxy leaves that are generally smooth, shiny and tightly packed in the centre to form a spherical head.
The spherical head is the most commonly eaten part of the cabbage; this is actually a collection of immature leaves.
Popular for centuries in the Mediterranean region, it has been documented since ancient times. Part of the Brassicaceae family, other vegetables that also feature in this family include cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts.
The cabbage is a descendant of the wild mustard plant which grows in coastal areas of the Mediterranean. The ancient Greeks and Romans made use of the wild mustard plant which is also known as sea cabbages and wild cabbage. The Roman statesman and historian Cato the Elder wrote that this vegetable surpassed all others in its health-giving properties.
The Celts brought it from Asia to Europe at about 600 years BC. The modern cabbage is the result of selective breeding which shortened the length of the stalk and made a tighter head.
The cabbage is a large, green-leaved vegetable, usually round in shape, which grows up to about 30cm across and typically weighs 2kg-3kg.
Cabbages can be grown all year round. The spring varieties, are planted in the autumn, they are usually more conical in shape. Summer varieties are planted in spring and winter sprouting varieties, which can be white as well as green, are planted in summer. Savoy cabbage has wrinkly, dark green leaves and is often planted in summer for use in winter, although they can also be planted and used in other seasons.
In addition, there are red and also white cabbages, which are usually harvested in winter and are great for storing; they have a zestier flavour.
How to Plant:
Cabbage is easy to grow but takes up a lot of space for six months so is not practical for a very small kitchen garden. They thrive when planted a sunny, sheltered position, and in fertile soil, so ideally apply a general fertiliser XXX a week before planting.
For best results, grow this vegetable in a location where peas or beans were previously grown because they benefit from the nitrogen that peas and beans fix in the ground. They also favour treatment with potash and phosphate. XXX
Sow cabbages either in seed trays or individual cell trays which can be left outdoors or placed directly into the ground. Traditionally, they are sown in a seedbed, then transplanted later into their final positions so that they don't initially take up too much space, but it is easier to sow them direct into their final positions, which is spaced around 30-45cm apart, depending on the variety: check the seed packet for the appropriate distance. The soil should first be prepared by raking and the seed sown at just over 1cm deep.
For spring cabbage, sow in late summer and transplant in early autumn. For summer varieties, sow from early spring, under cloches for protection from colder conditions, until early summer and transplant in midsummer. Finally, for winter cabbage, sow in late spring, transplanting in late summer.
Clubroot can deform the roots leading to the plant's death, so adding lime to the planting hole is a good measure for protection. Caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly can devastate plants; a fine netting over the plants will prevent egg laying and so avoid the problem. Caterpillars and eggs can be removed by hand. The larvae themselves can also cause damage, but a felt collar around the base of each plant will help prevent this happening.
Hoe regularly between the plants to deter weeds, and water well during spells of dry weather so growth is not checked. A liquid feed XXX can help the final stages of development.
When to harvest:
Cabbages come in a variety of colours, they can be white, green or red. They are characterised by a short stem and can be loose leafed or have a tightly packed central sphere of leaves that is referred to as the head. If you are very attentive with watering while the head is growing, the plant will produce a much larger Cabbage head.
Harvesting takes place when the head has reached the correct size for your needs. The head should still be firm when you harvest. Some species will reward you with a second crop if harvested correctly.
To harvest, use a sharp knife to cut through the stalk of the cabbage, as close to the ground as possible.
Did you know?
Packed with vitamins A, B and C, cabbage leaves also have an abundance of amino acids and minerals. It is a very nutritious vegetable and is used widely in cuisine across the globe, featuring in dishes that range from soups to salads.
The German dish Sauerkraut uses shredded cabbage that is traditionally fermented; this process is different to traditional pickling and should not be confused with pickled cabbage. It produces a sour tasting cabbage dish. It has a very long shelf life and is a good source of vitamin C. Many Asian countries also have a similar dish in their national cuisine.
The name derives from the old French word caboche, which means head, thus named because the head is typically round.
In the late 18th century Captain Cook swore by the healing properties of sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage dish. He used it as a compress for the wounds of soldiers injured in battle, and found it prevented the soldiers from getting gangrene.
In ancient times it was considered unwise to plant cabbages near vines, otherwise wine made from the grapes would taste of cabbage.