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Growing Cabbage Successfully in Small Spaces

June 17, 2013

Want to try growing cabbage in your vegetable garden?  With a bit of tolerance, diligence, and patience, getting a great cabbage harvest is easy to do.

Pixie Cabbage

‘Pixie’ F1 Hybrid Mini-cabbage Ready for Harvest

Cabbage plants tend to take up quite a bit of space, so this year we decided to give a small space hybrid called ‘Pixie’ from Renee’s Garden Seeds a try, and so far so good. (Disclosure: The seeds for these crops were supplied to Garden Mentors® free of charge for review purposes by Renee’s.)

Untrimmed cabbage plant

An untrimmed cabbage plant just-pulled from the vegetable bed.

Here’s our growing timeline:

  • February: Added lime and compost to the beds where this crop was destined to grow.
  • March: Planted seeds in sterile seed starting mix under lights indoors at the beginning of the month. It took just under a week for the seedlings to germinate (aka sprout). By the end of the month, we had potted the seedlings into a fertile growing mix in small pots and put them into the passive greenhouse (no heat or light beyond what the sun offers.) Too, we planted onion starts and chives into this bed in hopes they would help ward off pests like aphids and cabbage butterfly.
  • April: By the middle of April, we had planted the young starts into the garden in full sun under a layer of horticultural fleece. We spaced plants about 10″ apart as recommended by the seed supplier. The fleece offered a bit of protection from hungry caterpillars borne of the white cabbage butterfly, but more than that the fleece also protected the crop from really cold temperatures, spring hail, and the buckets of crow poop that falls from the power lines above the cabbage bed — its where the crows like to hang out and eat gross chicken bits (but that’s another story for another day.)
  • April & May: Every day or so, we checked the crop for cabbage butterfly and watering needs. Even with a bit of fleece, those butterflies still managed to lay eggs, so we were squishing their babies daily for a few weeks there. And, our rains backed off early, so adding supplemental water was necessary. So far: No aphids. But, somebody did rip off our broccoli growing nearby. By mid-May, we side dressed the crop with a natural, organic complete fertilizer to give the plants a boost.
  • June: Continued to monitor for pests, and watered as the heads began to tighten up. And, today, we harvested our first one pound head of cabbage.
  • February (this bullet is being added in March of the year following the original post to discuss plants we seeded in late August.) The plants we grew in the cold frame bed plugged along slowly all winter. Two pretty much turned into decorative plants; the other two turned into small, tightly formed heads that we savored fresh from the garden in December and in late February. So, yes, these will overwinter with some protection.
Trimmed Cabbage

Beautiful, tightly formed one pound Pixie cabbage head, trimmed and ready to eat!

So, what are our take-aways after growing this crop this season?

  • ‘Pixie’ does form small heads on relatively small plants, but 10″ apart might not be quite enough. We’re harvesting every other one to give the others space to finish forming. About 14″ apart might be more appropriate, but the plants are doing okay with this tight spacing.
  • The seed packet suggested “60 days to harvest”; it appears it was more like “90 days to harvest” for us. And, this was an unusually warm & sunny PacNW spring, so that 90 day period might be even longer in more typical years for us.
  • The heads of each cabbage are about the 4-6″ dense form suggested by the package. Some are more “cow heart” shaped; some are more of the familiar round form.

They’re an easy-care plant that really doesn’t take up a lot of space, which comes at a premium in our small space urban garden. And, yes, we’ll be growing these again — assuming they’re as sweet on the tongue as they are to the eye. Tonight, perhaps, I’ll combine them with some of our baby carrots in a salad. Or, I’ll grill a split head of cabbage to go with sausages and lots of mustard — one of our favorite summer grilling treats.

(Another disclosure: The hand shears shown in the photo above were provided without cost to Garden Mentors® by Fiskars®)


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