(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 6 of the Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING CABBAGE
Cabbage does really well in Sitka. It is a crop worth growing, if you have the space for it. I find that the most important thing about growing cabbage is picking the right variety. Loosely knit heads allow too many spaces for slugs, so choose varieties that produce tightly packed heads. Purple varieties mature really late but the slugs don’t bother them as much as they do the green varieties. I always grow both colors.
Cabbage is a moderately heavy feeder, so prepare next year’s bed this fall by loading it up with fertilizer (or compost, seaweed and salmon carcasses) and lime (or seashell sand). Plant seeds indoors mid-March and transplant outdoors mid-April. It’s important to transplant cabbage plants while they are still young. If they get too old the plants will stunt and never reach their potential size.
Make a dish-shaped depression in the soil and then plant the seedling in the bottom of the depression burying it up to its first set of true leaves. Cabbage that is planted too close together produces small heads so be sure to give them plenty of room. I like to use about 2 foot spacing. Mulch the entire row with seaweed (without herring eggs) to retain moisture, but be sure the seaweed touches the tender starts as little as possible to avoid rot.
Cabbage is from the brassica family and as with all brassicas it is very important to cover the entire bed with floating row cover to protect the crop from the dreaded root maggot fly. For best results use hoops to support the row cover up off the little seedlings so they do not get flattened by the rain. Leave the cover on until at least July 15.
Slugs are the mortal enemy of cabbages. They get in between the leaves, live in the cracks and crannies, and just riddle the heads with holes. It is quite unpleasant to cut into a cabbage and find slugs, worms and slug poop. GROSS! My ducks do a good job of eliminating the slugs, but they also love to eat cabbage so during the summer I need to lock them out of the garden. Consequently the slugs eventually move back in and take up residence in the cabbage.
The only thing that can help this situation is preventative measures: Don’t plant cabbage next to slug habitat (brush, groundcover, piles of boards or stones), be vigilant with the slug bait/traps, try some cabbage collars or copper flashing when transplanting, when the plant is sturdy enough remove leaves that are touching the ground, and keep the bed weeded to reduce slug habitat.
Cabbage is ready to eat at any time but it is a waste to harvest a head that is the size of a softball. Try to be patient and start harvesting your first heads when they are about the size of a cantaloupe. Use a knife to cut the head at ground level leaving the root in the ground to avoid disturbing the plants nearby. It can be removed later in the season or even next spring. The loose outer leaves are edible but not as tender and sweet as the head itself.
Do not feel that you have to harvest all the plants in the row before the weather turns cold. Cabbage is very hearty. It can sit in the garden covered with snow and still be perfectly edible. Of course it can’t withstand that type of weather forever, so by November if you haven’t eaten them all harvest the rest and store them in the fridge in plastic bags. They have an amazing shelf life.
One more note, sometimes gardeners have trouble with their cabbages splitting. General information says that this is caused by too much rain, but I have heard that too much nitrogen can also cause splitting. If you notice a head has split, harvest it right away. Split heads start to deteriorate quickly if left in the garden.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241