Learn How to Grow Cabbage and Kale
If you’d like to learn how to grow cabbage and kale then you need to understand that they both prefer cool weather and can withstand light frosts. They grow best in full sun in rich (mix plenty of organic matter, such as compost, humus, well rotted manure, or leaf mold into the soil before planting), moist, slightly alkaline (pH 7.0) well-drained soil.
To avoid any soil borne diseases, rotate crops; i.e., do not plant any members of the cabbage family (including broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, rapini, Brussels sprouts, mustard) in the same place for four years.
Start Cabbage Seed Indoors
Start cabbage seeds indoors eight to ten weeks before the last frost date. Sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep, in sterile starting mix. Water thoroughly. Once the seeds have sprouted, keep the soil lightly moist. Make sure
the plants have plenty of light—a south facing window or fluorescent tubes—so they don’t become long and weak. Feed the plants with half-strength compost tea every two weeks. Once the plants have two sets of true leaves, harden the plants off by setting them outside. Start with two hours a day, and increase by two hours each day until they remain outdoors overnight.
Set the plants at least 12 inches apart; space rows 24 to 36 inches apart, depending on the variety. To get the plants off to a good start and encourage root development, pour in one cup of compost tea to each planting hole before filling it in. To avoid cutworm damage, place a tuna fish or cat food can (with top and bottom removed) halfway into the soil to act as a collar for the plant.
Start from Chinese Cabbage and Kale Seed Outdoors
Chinese cabbage and kale are best direct seeded into the garden. In cool weather climates, you can start other cabbages outdoors as well, up to four weeks before the last frost date. For fall harvest, sow seeds in July. Conserve seed by grouping 3 to 4 seeds at the desired plant spacing instead of the traditional continuous row and then thinning and throwing away a lot of seedlings. Sow the seeds 1/4 inch deep. Water well; keep the top level of soil moist, especially for drier mid-summer planting. Once the seedlings are several inches tall, with at least two sets of leaves, pinch out all but the strongest one in each group.
Keep plants lightly moist. This is especially important for plants started in the summer for fall and winter harvest. Mulch with 1 to 2 inches of organic matter, keeping the mulch an inch away from the stem of the plant. Mulching helps keep the soil moist, feeds the plants, and controls weeds. Irrigation is especially important to help the young plants withstand the intense sunlight and heat of summer and to supply the developing heads with sufficient water to develop quickly.
Insects and Pests
Among the most common pests are aphids and cabbage loopers. The small white moths in the gardens lay eggs that turn into cabbage loopers. Cover the plants with screening or floating row cover to prevent this. Control aphids by spraying with frequent hard blasts of water; try spraying with insecticidal soap or hot pepper spray.
Harvest and Storage of Cabbage and Kale
Cabbage: You can harvest cabbage anytime after the heads form. Cut the heads when they are solid (firm to pressure) but before they crack or split. Springy heads are not mature. For spring planted cabbages, cut the head only; do not pull up the whole plant. Cut as close to the lower surface of the head as possible; leave the loose outer leaves intact. Buds will grow in the axils of these leaves, forming “cabbage sprouts.” Pick them when they are firm and 2 to 4 inches across. They are a tasty cross between cabbage and Brussels Sprouts. They can be eaten like Brussels Sprouts.
Store late fall or winter cabbage for several months in humid conditions as close to freezing as possible. Store only disease-free heads. Pull out the cabbages and hang in a moist cellar, roots and all, or cut heads, remove loose outer leaves and spread one layer deep on shelves or pallets in a moist root cellar.
Kale: Pick outer leaves as you need them and kale will keep producing new inner leaves. Harvest when leaves are large enough for intended use. Tender young leaves are best for salad, older leaves for cooking. Frost improves the flavor of kale. Mature plants survive to 10°F or below. Mark the site so you can find the fresh greens under the snow.
Use of Cabbage and Kale as Ornamental Edibles in Gardens
Kale and cabbage are gorgeous additions to a perennial bed or a mixed border. In Anchorage, Alaska, you are likely to see Savoy cabbage growing in planting beds along the city streets next to petunias and geraniums. Deep purple ‘Red Winterbor’ kale pairs well with fall or spring pansies, curly parsley, and nasturtiums. Dark green leaved ‘Blue Ridge’ kale creates an exciting backdrop for flowerbeds.
Nutritional Values – Raw and Cooked
Dark green leafy cabbage is high in Vitamin C, iron, and folate. Cabbage also contains beta-carotene, potassium, and phyto-chemicals, such as glucosinolates—proven to reduce cancer, especially lung cancer. The pale center leaves are much less nutritious. Avoid overcooking as this depletes the nutritional content. Raw red, green, or Savoy cabbage has about 20 calories a cup; cooked it is 30 calories, while Chinese cabbage is only 11 calories a cup raw; 15 cooked, and is higher in Vitamin C than the other cabbages.
Whether raw or cooked, kale is a low calorie, high nutrition leafy green. A cup of raw kale has 60 calories; cooked it is 48 calories. Even cooked, where it can lose one-third or more of its nutritive value, a cup of kale provides the minimum daily requirement of Vitamins A and C and 13 percent of the calcium requirement. A good
source of glucosinolates, Vitamin E, and manganese, kale is used as a green vegetable, steamed and served with butter or vinegar, or in soups. Unfortunately, kale is often used in salad bars as the decoration covering the ice rather than as a selection on its own.
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