Happy New Years fellow gardening enthusiasts! Hope the holiday season was a pleasant experience for all and that 2013 brings a bounty of fruits and vegetables to fill your tummies.
Here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes in Poway CA, we have been greeted frequently with light frosts over the past few weeks. I can see the ice starting to blanket the scenery out my window as I type. It is time to sharpen our pruners and start to cut back our naked deciduous fruit trees and struggling roses in preparation of massive blooming in the spring. All of our gardens are packed with fall and winter cool season crops and we have been harvesting hundreds of pounds of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and bok choy for the residents in our 86-bed facility. White row covers blanket our gardens, to warm things up a bit and keep whatever chilly bugs that are hanging around, off our plants. My roots are from growing warm season crops such as tomatoes and peppers, but I have really grown to love the cole crop season. I get a real thrill harvesting 2 lb plus heads of cauliflower and beautiful clean crispy heads of lettuce this time of year. Plantings of these crops will continue through April.
Let’s talk about one of our smaller supporting cast members for this time of year- CABBAGE.
Cabbage is a leafy biennial, grown as an annual vegetable for its densely-leaved heads. It is a key member of the Brassica family of cruciferous veggies which includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale. Cabbage is a very hardy vegetable and grows especially well in home gardens. They require a very fertile soil, full sun and come in an array of colors and leave textures. The most common cabbage is of the green smooth head type. Heads can get up to 8 lbs depending on the variety. Many shapes, colors and leaf textures are found in the cabbage world. Leaf types are generally divided between crinkled-leaf, loose-head savoys and smooth-leaf firm head cabbages. Colors range from white to greens to purples. Oblate, round and pointed varieties are found in the family.
Cabbage is a great source of vitamin B and C, minerals and calcium. It is also full of beta-carotene and fiber (very low cal also). Being a member of the crucifer family, it has been shown to reduce the risks of some cancers. This is probably due to the metabolic detoxicants found in all cole crops. Boiling as a form of cooking, has been shown to reduce the anti-carcinogenic properties.
So let’s go over some of the types of cabbage to grow in your garden.
GREEN CABBAGE- This is your basic, solid, compact and long lasting standard of the industry. When harvesting, look for heads that feel heavy for their size. They can range from softball to basketball size. The heads should be tightly packed with moist looking leaves. You will probably notice a sweeter flavor of those grown at home, over the store- bought heads. I have had good results with King Cole. This variety will be ready for harvest in about 75 days. It will produce large 3-5 lb heads which are firm and uniform in size. Great in salads, slaws and soups.
SAVOY CABBAGE- Also known as “curly cabbage”. This type has ruffled, large, deeply ridged leaves. I find it to be the most attractive cabbage out there. The leaves are more loosely layered and less tightly packed than green and red types. We have been growing the Savoy King variety. It will take about 85 days and is very dark green with uniform heads that are slightly flattened. Heads can get up to 4 lbs. Delicious thinly sliced in salads and stir-fried. Try braising it in butter for a real treat.
RED CABBAGE- Heads look like green types but are RED. Actually magenta would be the proper description. Heads are generally smaller than green varieties. Again, look for tightly packed, moist looking leaves and heads that look heavy for their size. Super Red 80 (73 days) and Ruby Perfection (85 days) have worked well for us. Both are extremely flavorful and add a little zip to your slaws when sliced thinly and mixed with green cabbage.
NAPA- Otherwise known as Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage Napa looks nothing like head cabbage. It has long, light green leaves that flower off of thick white stalks. It looks more like Romaine lettuce or green swiss chard. We grow Bilko from Johnny Seeds. We let it get full size up to 12” in about 54 days. It is very dark green, slow to bolt with a mild peppery flavor. Great in salads, stir-fries and of course the Korean staple-spicy kimchi
BOK CHOY- We grow more bok choy than any other cabbage. We grow it in between our broccoli and cauliflower rows, just like we do our lettuce. Bok choy and side kick baby bok choy have distinct leaves growing from a central stalk. Looks a bit like swiss chard with green stalks and leaves. We have had great success with the Joi Choi variety from Johnny’s Seed. This variety forms a 12”-15” tall, broad,heavy plant with dark green leaves and thick flattened white petioles. It is heat and cold tolerant and harvests in about 50 days.. It has a mild but bright cabbage flavor and is most often used in stir fried dishes. Braising bok choi brings out a sweeter flavor. Baby bok choy can be cooked whole. I love it grilled on the BBQ.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS- These are actually tiny cabbages that are found either loose packed or on the stalk in the grocery store. Buying them on the stalk will insure they last several weeks when chilled. I have very little experience growing them due to the fact that they take generally about 110days to harvest and aphid control is imperative to keep them out of the little leaves that form. I have heard good things about the Nautic variety from Johnny’s Seed. The sprouts are medium sized with good plant vigor and yield potential. It has excellent cold tolerance.
To grow cabbage is basically the same as that of growing broccoli and cauliflower. Check the archives at The Mulch, where last cool season, I went through, in detail the ins and outs of growing cole crops. Be wary of insect problems such as aphids, loopers and flea beetles, all of which are easily controlled with floating row covers. Be prepared to fertilize more frequently also.
Please contact me, if you have any questions or would like to tour our gardens.
Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care- 12695 Monte Vista Rd, Poway CA 92064
Also don’t forget to join us for our free monthly garden lectures on the 3rd Saturday each month at 10:30 am. Door prizes, refreshments and valuable insight abound.
January 19, 2013- Deciduous Fruit Tree Care and Pruning
February 16, 2013- Edible landscaping
March 16, 2013- Successes and Failures in your Fall/ Winter Crops and Preparing for Spring/Summer Crops