Cooking cabbage | Growing summer cabbage | Varieties | Sowing | Transplanting | Growing on | Cutting | Troubles
Cabbage has been grown for well over two thousand years, at least records go back that far, but it is very likely that it has been grown for a much longer period. It is native to Europe, in various forms, but it is not native to Ireland. Cabbage was probably used as a wild-collected food for a long time before it was cultivated. It is very easy to cultivate as it sets seeds in large numbers and these are robust, long-lived and germinate readily.
Summer cabbage is grown from seeds sown as early as January, the plants put out in late spring and the crop picked in July or August. It is a fast-growing crop and its flavour is light and tasty, not as strong as winter or late autumn crops, for instance. It is ideal for light summery dishes, sweet and easily digested. The heads are usually relatively small by comparison with the large heads of autumn and winter varieties.
While cabbage was traditionally boiled in this country, and often ruined as a result, there are many more ways to cook it and it is a much more versatile vegetable that is often considered. As well as light boiling, summer cabbage can be used raw or par-boiled in salads and coleslaw. It can be used in stir-fries and even sliced into soups. It has significant quantities of vitamin C and antioxidants, also carotene, though these summer varieties contain less of each of these than the overwintering cabbage varieties.
Growing summer cabbage
Site and soil: All kinds of cabbage like fertile soil, well-drained and in a sunny open position. The wild plant occurs only on limy soils and cultivated sorts do best with lime in the soil and can suffer mineral deficiencies on acidic soil.
The most common variety is ‘Greyhound' and the fast-developing ‘Hispi' is also excellent. Both of these are relatively early. ‘Caramba', ‘Elisa' and ‘Castello' are newer varieties.
Seeds of the earliest summer cabbage, ‘Hispi' ready for cutting in June after a good spring can be sown in a greenhouse in January or early February. Other sowings can take place indoor or outdoor in March and up to June to crop in autumn.
It is best to sow two or three seeds to each cell of a cell tray, removing the weaker ones. The earliest sowing can be moved into small pots or put out from the cell tray in April. Or the seed is sown in the soil of a greenhouse or cold frame, the plants can be lifted and transplanted directly outdoors. The soil should be firm but not firmed too hard.
The young plants may need some liquid feeding to get them going, though not more than a couple of times. Water during any long dry spell, the idea always being to keep the plants growing nicely.
Summer cabbage quickly forms hearts and these can be used as soon as they are judged large enough. They continue to develop and can go over-mature quickly in hot, sunny weather when the ground is moist and growth is good.
The usual cabbage family problems must be watched for. Summer cabbage tends to suffer less from pests and diseases because of its more rapid rate of development but it can be damaged by cabbage root flies, caterpillars of white butterflies and greenflies.