Baby Cabbages – dynamite in small packages
Like all things miniature, baby cabbages have an appeal all of their own. They don’t take up as much growing space as big cabbages (which is an important consideration for small gardens) and they are ready for harvesting a whole lot sooner. If you don’t have a large family then a big head of cabbage can seem to last forever whereas baby cabbages can be used up quickly, which means they are always crunchy and sweet.
Cabbage is best grown as a cool season crop because it tends to bolt when temperatures are high, and the leaves can be tough and bitter. It is also less plagued by pests in winter.
Seed can be sown from the end of February through to April and in frost free or warmer winter areas another two succession sowings can be made about four to six weeks apart. Whether you are growing baby cabbages or the bigger varieties, the same rules generally apply.
Cabbage needs to be in full sun and grows in almost any kind of soil. Compost and Super Phosphate or bonemeal should be worked into the soil beforehand because cabbage is a heavy feeder. If you are practising crop rotation then plant your cabbages where beans were grown earlier in the season, because they will have enriched the soil with nitrogen.
Sowing seed in seedling trays is preferable because it is easier to space the seedlings correctly when they are transplanted. (If you decide to sow your cabbage in situ then you must thin out the excess seedlings because the cabbages must have enough space to grow.) The seedling trays must be kept moist while the seeds germinate, and fairly soon after germination they can be fed daily with a much-diluted plant food to get them growing quickly. Once the plants are big enough to handle they can be transplanted.
Planting and spacing
Baby cabbages can be spaced about 25cm apart. The larger-growing varieties should be spaced about 40cm apart. Rows should be from 30 to 50cm apart. If the plants are too close together then the heads won’t have space to develop. When setting out the seedlings in the bed, sink them up to the first set of leaves; this prevents the ‘topple over’ effect that often occurs with cabbage seedlings. To get the cabbages growing quickly and strongly feed them regularly with a diluted foliar feed or compost tea. Put down a heavy mulch to reduce weeds and protect the plants in winter.
Pest control is critical and you need to be vigilant, especially for aphids. Once they get into the cabbage head you might as well pull the cabbage out and throw it away (or feed it to the chickens). Apply an organic insecticide or an insecticide with a shorter withholding period. Birds may also cause damage as the cabbage will be one of the few green plants in the vegetable garden; use bird netting, especially when the seedlings are planted out. Bird netting always comes in handy in the vegetable garden so the initial outlay is well justified.
If they are not performing, give them a boost with liquid or organic fertiliser. Growth will slow down during winter but come spring they will mature rapidly. Don’t let the soil dry out and keep a thick layer of mulch around them. If your area gets frost then cover the young plants with frost cover overnight but remove it during the day.
Harvest your cabbages as soon as the heads are firm. Leaving them on the plant will not improve the taste or texture. Baby cabbages are generally ready to harvest within 55 to 65 days from planting out, while the really large cabbages need 100 to 120 days. Chinese cabbage is normally ready between 80 to 90 days. If baby cabbages are left in the ground for too long, they will get bigger but the leaves will also be bitter.
This recipe is also delicious with uncooked Brussels sprouts.
200 g baby cabbage or cabbage, very thinly sliced to fine shreds
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin matchsticks
100 g walnuts, toasted on a baking tray in the oven
1 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper
Mix all the dressing ingredients together and pour over the cabbage and apples. Mix well. Add the walnuts and cheese and fold
them in. Serves 6.