Cabbages might not evoke the same kind of response as asparagus or broccolini, but they've certainly earned a place on our plate. Imagine a world without coleslaw, bubble and squeak or sauerkraut?
HOW TO GROW CABBAGE Cabbages grow best during the coolest months of the year. Cold weather and short days make them sweet and crunchy, plus their enemies – aphids, caterpillars and whitefly – are mostly absent at this time.
Cabbages need well-drained soil enriched with lots of organic matter. They prefer a lightly limed soil. New Zealand soils tend to be slightly acidic, so add lime before planting.
If you only want to grow a few cabbages, it's easy to pick up a punnet or two at your garden centre. However they are easy to grow from seed and will germinate in as little as 24 hours.
Sow seeds thinly in seed-raising mix in shallow rows in trays, cover with a thin layer of mix and water with a spray bottle to avoid uncovering the seeds. Place them in a warm, partially sunny spot and wait for germination. Cabbage seeds need plenty of diffuse sunlight at germination (a mesh curtain works well) as they will stretch out to find it, and once stretched it's unlikely they'll perform well.
Plant them out once the second set of true leaves appears, spacing them around 50cm apart unless you are growing the smaller cultivars. Protect them from slugs and snails.
CABBAGE VARIETIES Reliable traditional cabbages include 'Green Ball' or try 'Copenhagen Market' (both Kings Seeds), an heirloom cabbage that is mature once it reaches 2–2.5kg, around 75 days from transplanting.
Crinkly, sweet, crisp savoy cabbages are the sophisticated members of the cabbage clan. Go for 'Savoy King' (Egmont Seeds) or 'Vertus Savoy' (Kings Seeds), which has a sweet, nutty flavour and reaches 2–3kg 90 days from transplanting.
They say there's no difference in taste between red and green cabbages, but they definitely add some punch to your plate. Wonderfully named 'Scarlet O'Hara' (Kings Seeds) can tolerate close planting, or go for 'Mini Red F1', a compact and densely wrapped cabbage that's ideal for small gardens and matures 50 days from transplanting.
Chinese cabbages are non-heading members of the brassica family, which are quick and cold-hardy in winter. Pop in a couple of punnets of seedlings every fortnight. Bok choy (also known as pak choi) is the most commonly grown. Pick young leaves for salads or steam older plants in stir-fries.
Peking cabbage or wong bok is an easy alternative to standard cabbage, while choy sum is a flowering cabbage – you eat its long, thin green stalks. 'Wa Wa Tsai' (Kings Seeds) is mini barrel-shaped Chinese cabbage, which reaches 300–500g just 60 days from transplanting. Here's more about how to grow Asian greens.
PESTS & DISEASES Earlier in autumn, white cabbage butterflies will lay their eggs on cabbage seedlings, and their offspring chomp their way through the leaves. Throw netting over your crop (buy mesh from garden centres or old net curtains from the op-shop). Be vigilant. Look under the leaves every day and flick off any little white eggs. A small, stiff paintbrush helps winkle eggs off very crinkly savoy leaves.
Dusty grey cabbage aphids can be problem. Spray them with hot soapy water.
Cabbages are also susceptible to club root, a fungal disease that causes stunted growth, yellowing, premature flowering and ultimately the plant's death. If discovered, destroy all brassicas in the bed. Don't compost the affected plants; instead bag them up or burn them.
WHEN TO HARVESTING CABBAGE Harvest cabbage heads when they feel firm and tight, and sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles.