World of cabbage awaits for gardeners

You can buy cabbages, mostly the green kind, in grocery stores. But if you grow your own, you can try many more varieties, even red and purple ones.

Classified by their optimal time of planting and maturity, cabbages include early, mid-season or late-season types, said Annie Chozinski, faculty research assistant with the horticulture department at Oregon State University.

You also might want to try growing bok choy, an open Chinese cabbage with white or green celery-like stalks and dark, shiny leaves. Savoy cabbage is stronger tasting, has a looser head than most green cabbages and has wrinkly leaves with ruffled edges.

Cabbage of all kinds thrives in sunny, well-drained, loam soil heavily amended with organic matter. It needs adequate and persistent moisture through the growing season.

"Keep soil pH above 6.8 and to avoid club root and other damaging fungal disease, and don't grow members of the cabbage family in the same place in the garden year after year," Chozinski said.

You can start cabbage from seed or purchase transplants from nurseries or garden stores. Chozinski recommends selecting transplants with stem diameters smaller than a pencil to reduce the risk of bolting, or setting flowers, rather than a head. Set transplants outside during the day for a week before transplanting in the garden to harden or acclimatize them to outdoor conditions.

Space larger varieties about 18-24 inches apart for optimal growth. Smaller, early varieties can be planted closer together, about 15-18 inches apart. Hot caps or row covers help early cabbages thrive.

"When your cabbage forms heads, be careful not to over-water after a dry spell, as the heads may split," Chozinski said.

Early cabbages grow fast, mature early and are smaller than later season varieties. Plant those early varieties from seed in the late winter to spring. Start transplants six weeks before planting outside or plant seeds directly outdoors after all danger of frost is past or soil temperature exceeds 50 degrees.

Mid-season cabbages are larger and later to mature and must be well established before summer heat sets in. It is best to plant these a little later than early varieties, in the mid-spring.

Late types, also called overwintering or storage varieties, should be planted from late spring through mid-summer and will head up in late fall and early winter-to-spring for harvest in the late fall, winter and spring in the milder regions of Oregon.

Chinese cabbage, including bok choy and Napa, bolts with excessive exposure to cool weather in early spring and lengthening days, and is best planted in early summer for fall harvest.

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