By: Justin Butts Photos By: Rachel Benavides
When celebrated plein-air painter Carol Koutnik visited our farm, she thought the most gorgeous vegetables in the garden were the cabbages. She went on to produce the critically-acclaimed exhibit “The Fantastic Garden,” with cabbages as the star of the show.
Cabbages are indeed gorgeous plants with their sensual contours and tight hearts of folded leaves. They are also loaded with vitamins and minerals. And best of all, freshly harvested cabbages are exquisitely delicious.
Here are our favorite cabbage varieties for the Coastal Bend:
Early Jersey Wakefield
70 days to maturity. Space 18”. Tight, small head, about two pounds. Large leaves at base can be used to wrap cabbage for storage. Sweet, flavorful, best-tasting of all. Best early variety. An heirloom, grown since the 1840s.
Late Flat Dutch
100 days to maturity. Space 24”. Huge head, 10 to 15 pounds. Robust, wonderful flavor. Best late variety. Keeps well for months if wrapped in base leaves and stored in cold, dry place. Since 1860s.
65 days to maturity. Space 15”. Head is three to five pounds. Compact heads allow closer spacing. Fastest to maturity. Nice flavor. Since 1920s.
87 days to maturity. Space 20”. Head is 11 to 14 pounds. Good flavor. Most heat tolerant variety. A good cabbage for Coastal Bend gardens, where winters can be short and unexpectedly warm.
66 days to maturity. Space 18”. Head is five to eight pounds. Great flavor. Compact heads. Good market variety for small-scale farmers. Since early 1900s.
80 days to maturity. Space 15”. Head is four to six pounds. Gorgeous red cabbage. Beautiful in any dish. Flavor not as good as the green varieties, but acceptable. This is the only hybrid cabbage on our list.
A Need to Know Basis
Plant in full sun in earliest November. Grow only in well-drained, heavily composted soil. Mix six cups pastured poultry manure and two cups homemade wood ash into the soil per plant –cabbages are heavy feeders. Water deeply and infrequently; keep soil slightly moist. Plant dill, thyme, and sage near cabbages to prevent cabbage moth pests. Harvest when tight heads form by clipping plant at the lower stem. Wrap the head in the large leaves at the base of the plant to transport or store.
“Early” versus “late” are terms used in northern gardens with cold winters. Up north, cabbages are planted at the end of winter. Early cabbages mature quickly, have small heads, and split at the first sign of heat. Late cabbages mature later, have large heads, and can take some (northern) summer heat. In the Coastal Bend, cabbages must be planted in the fall and harvested during winter, or they will either bolt or split. To extend harvest, plant some early and some late varieties.
Cabbage can be served warm or cold; cooked or uncooked. When it comes to cabbage, its culinary options are endless. Three varieties that are locally grown are: Red cabbage, Napa cabbage, and green cabbage. Red cabbage is typically used for its color, adding a nice pop to any dish. Napa cabbage is great for wraps due to its mild taste and large green leaves. Green cabbage, the more common, lends itself to great soups and sides.
– Joel Trevino, Dagon Produce, @dagoncctx
Cabbages were the most frequently sold vegetable at markets in Colonial America. Every farmer near a city grew this cash crop to sell in town. The best farmers were the Pennsylvania Dutch. These so-called Dutch farmers were immigrants and their descendants from Germany (Deutsche was misunderstood as Dutch). The best farmers of all were the Amish, who had fled religious persecution in Germany and come to America seeking freedom of worship. The Amish of Pennsylvania are still among the best farmers in America.