What can you grow in the winter

Vegetables to grow in winter: 8 crops for winter harvesting

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I live in a region where winters can be long, cold, and very snowy. But, I still enjoy a homegrown harvest from my vegetable garden year-round. The key to a successful winter harvest is to know the right vegetables to grow in winter and pair them with the right season extenders. That means growing cold tolerant crops in structures like cold frames, mini hoop tunnels, greenhouses, or polytunnels.

Growing vegetables in winter is easier than you think. The key is to pair cold tolerant crops with simple season extenders.

Learn how to pick the best vegetables to grow in winter:

Learning the best vegetables to grow in winter, from November through March, starts with a little background in winter harvesting. If you’re new to winter vegetable gardening, start with just a few crops and a cold frame or mini hoop tunnel, experimenting with what works best in your region. Climates milder than my zone 5 Nova Scotia garden, may find success with a simple length of fabric row cover floated over crops on PVC or metal hoops. You can make your own fleece tunnels or buy a tunnel kit for quick assembly.

I need more protection in my region so I add a layer of polyethylene film on top of my fabric tunnels to shelter kale, collards, leeks, and hardy salad greens in winter. In colder zones, gardeners should use insulating structures like cold frames and stick to the hardiest vegetables (kale, scallions, mache, and tatsoi for example) to ensure success.

It’s also important to understand that the growth of most vegetables slows once the day-length shrinks to less than ten hours a day. For me, that happens in early November so I need to make sure my winter vegetables have reached a harvestable size by that time. At that point, my cold-tolerant vegetables stay tucked in their season extenders waiting for me to harvest.

When to plant winter crops

Wondering when to seed or plant winter crops? Most vegetables to grow in winter are planted from mid-summer to early autumn, depending on the crop. Learn more about timing winter crops in my book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.

Smart winter gardening begins with the arrival of the seed catalogs. Read the crop descriptions carefully opting for varieties with increased cold tolerance. For example, I love dinosaur kale and we enjoy it in spring, summer, and autumn, but it’s not as cold tolerant as ‘Winterbor’ or ‘Redbor’ kale. So I stick to the most cold-tolerant varieties for our winter vegetable garden.

Eight of the best vegetables to grow in winter:

No self-respecting winter garden is complete without several varieties of hardy kale. In fact, as the temperature drops in late autumn, the flavor of kale improves. We grow kale two ways – as a mature crop for soups, sautés and chips and as a baby green for tender winter salads. ‘Winterbor’ is a beautiful and delicious kale that grows three feet tall with deeply curled blue-green leaves. I also enjoy growing ‘Red Russian’, a classic variety with vivid purple stems and gray-green leaves. This is the variety we like to use for kale chips.

Winterbor kale is a cold season superstar that can be harvested all winter long.

Lettuce

For years I’ve tested dozens of varieties of lettuce in my winter cold frames and tunnels. Lettuce is definitely one of the very best vegetables to grow in winter. I’ve had great luck with hardy varieties like ‘Winter Density’, ‘Red Salad Bowl’, and ‘Winter Marvel’. But, I have recently been experimenting with Salanova® lettuce varieties and I am in love! These baby-sized lettuces form dense rosettes of tender green, red, or burgundy leaves. They’re beautiful, tasty, and have performed extremely well in my unheated winter polytunnel.

I’ve grown lettuce in my cold frames and mini tunnels for years, but only recently discovered the winter hardy Salanova varieties. They form tidy rosettes of baby leaves – perfect for gourmet salads.

Carrots

We affectionally call our winter carrots, ‘candy carrots’ because they’re so sweet. Like kale, beets, leeks, and many other crops, their flavor improves after a few frosts in late autumn. We sow seed for our winter carrot crop in mid-summer, and deep mulch the bed in November with shredded leaves or straw. This insulating layer is topped with an old row cover or bed sheet to hold it in place. Whenever we want to harvest, the fabric and mulch are pulled back and we dig as many sweet roots as needed. Best bets for winter harvesting include ‘Napoli’, ‘Mokum’, or ‘Bolero’.

Asian Greens

Asian greens are another plant on the list of best vegetables to grow in winter. There are so many awesome types of Asian greens available to gardeners through seed catalogs. We grow different ones in spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and I’ve found the best ones for cold season harvesting include pac choi, tatsoi, mizuna, and mustard. These are very fast to grow and offer a range of foliage textures, colors, and flavors. I direct seed in early September, or give the seedlings a head start indoors under my grow lights before they’re moved to the garden beds in mid-September.

Asian greens like mizuna are ideal for growing in winter structures like cold frames and polytunnels.

Scallions

‘Evergreen Hardy White’ is a cold season superstar in our winter frames and tunnels. This extremely hardy variety produces long green tops with tender white stalks. I direct sow the seed in September, and the first harvest usually takes place by mid-November. With protection we harvest flavorful scallions all winter long.

Mache

Also called corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, mache is one of the top vegetables to grow in winter. The plants form two to four-inch diameter clusters of leaves that are harvested whole by slicing the stem off at soil level. After a quick rinse, the rosettes are tossed with a simple dressing and enjoyed as a salad green. ‘Vit’ is my variety of choice and is direct seeded in late summer. Mache self-sows easily, almost too easily, so pull any leftover plants in spring if you don’t want mache popping up throughout your garden.

Even northern gardeners in zone 3 and 4 can enjoy a bumper crop of mache when it’s protected in cold frames and greenhouses.

Spinach

Spinach thrives in the cool, shorter days of autumn and well into winter. I sow the seed in my cold frames and polytunnel in mid to late September, as well as in a few open garden beds. Those beds will eventually be covered with polyethylene topped mini hoop tunnels when autumn switches to winter. Try ’Giant Winter’, a variety bred for winter harvesting or ‘Tyee’, ‘Melody’, or ‘Winter Bloomsdale’. I’ve had good success with harvesting all of these throughout winter.

Arugula

Arugula was the green that first introduced me to the possibilities of winter harvesting, and all these years later it’s still one of my favorite cold season crops. There are two main types of arugula you can harvest in winter; wild and garden. The garden varieties like ‘Astro’ are very quick growing and have strappy leaves. Wild arugula is slower growing, but more cold tolerant, with deeply lobed leaves. It also has a more robust flavor. We seed arugula every few weeks starting in early September to ensure a non-stop supply of this peppery green in our cold frames and polytunnel. Harvest as a baby crop or allow the leaves to grow full-sized.

For more information on growing winter vegetables, check out my book The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener (Winner of the American Horticultural Society Book Award). And be sure to check out these posts on winter vegetable gardening:

  • 3 Ways to Grow Fresh Vegetables in Winter
  • Corn Mache for the winter garden
  • Harvest Mustard Greens all Winter Long
  • Mulch Root Crops for Winter Harvesting
  • Learn How to Overwinter Crops for Extra Early Harvesting

Do you have a greenhouse? Do you wonder what vegetables to grow this winter so that you can make it work for you all year long?

Well, I can help you. I had a cold frame greenhouse that was really great to utilize all winter long, so I always had fresh vegetables, and I wasn’t dependent upon the grocery store.

Would you like to know how to grow vegetables in your greenhouse over winter and then also, which vegetables?

Well, I’ve got you covered. Here is what you need to know:

How to Grow Food in Your Greenhouse Over Winter

There are actually a couple of different options for growing vegetables and fruits in your greenhouse over the winter months. You’ll need to decide which approach you’d like to take first and see which one works best for you.

1. Grow in an Unheated Greenhouse

The greenhouse I had was an unheated greenhouse. I’ll tell you my situation upfront, but we recently moved, and I haven’t gotten around to building a new greenhouse at our new home.

However, we had a large cold frame greenhouse at our previous home for almost 5 years. So I used it and appreciated having it for a long time. I really miss not having one this winter, but I will hopefully get a new one built by next winter.

So I know that you can grow in an unheated greenhouse in most climates over winter. The trick is growing only hearty vegetables so that they can withstand the cold temperatures as long as they don’t have the snow and frost on them.

Or you could grow the winter vegetables that can actually be left outside over winter (under the snow and frost) and just not have to dig through the snow to get to them.

So you would plant each vegetable just as you would if it were in a regular garden bed. You’ll still need to fertilize and water as you would any other garden. Don’t forget to weed your unheated greenhouse garden and don’t forget to harvest on time either. It is all pretty straightforward when you grow a winter garden in an unheated greenhouse.

2. Extend Grow Season in a Heated Greenhouse

Red and green tomatoes in a greenhouse of transparent polycarbonate

Your next option is to extend the growing season for some of your plants in a heated greenhouse. If you have peppers, tomatoes, squash, fruit trees, potted strawberry plants, etc. that you’d like to enjoy over the cold winter months, then you’ll need to put them in pots and move them to your heated greenhouse.

Now, realize, you’ll have to keep your greenhouse as warm inside as it would be on a typical summer day outside. So you should keep it around the mid-70’s to low-80’s inside your greenhouse. You will probably sweat when working in it, but that’s okay.

From there, you’ll continue to water, fertilize, weed, and care for these plants just as you would if they were outside. You’ll need to keep harvesting and pruning them as well (when they need it.)

Then you just let them grow until they won’t produce anymore. You can actually save them after they quit producing and sustain them, so you can replant them next year. A lot of people will bring their pepper plants indoors over winter and use the same plants year after year.

So keep this in mind if you are saving plants from your summer garden, so you can have a fresh tomato or pepper over the winter months.

3. Overwinter and Plant in a Heated Greenhouse

This final option is for people that want to be able to grow anything they want, any time they want. If you keep a really warm greenhouse (as mentioned above), you can plant seeds and grow them like you would in your normal garden.

However, you have to realize that plants need to be pollinated. Since you won’t have bees flying around your greenhouse over winter, you’ll have to do this for them.

So what do you do? You simply shake your tomato or pepper plants and this will cause their pollen to fly around and pollination will occur by simply shaking the plants.

Then you’ll need to care for the plants as normal. You should fertilize, water, prune and harvest as you would in any other garden.

Actually, a lot of people will also overwinter certain plants in their greenhouse to keep them alive. For instance, some people plant their fruit trees in pots. That way they can just move the pots to the greenhouse where the temperatures are consistent with what the fruit trees need.

Then they harvest the fruit that is produced, fertilize, and prune the tree. When the weather warms up when the seasons change, they move the plant back outside and let it thrive there again. Having a heated greenhouse can be a great thing and very handy too.

What Can I Grow in My Greenhouse Over Winter?

I’ve already mentioned some plants that can be brought into a greenhouse to be grown or overwintered inside a heated greenhouse. I’d like to go into greater detail with an easy-to-follow list, so you know what to try your hand at growing in your greenhouse.

Here is what can be grown in a greenhouse over winter:

1. Pot-Grown Strawberries

I wanted to start with heated greenhouse options that we’ve previously discussed. If you have a strawberry plant that is a potted perennial, then you can carry it in and out of your heated greenhouse year after year to protect your plant and keep it producing.

However, if you have a potted annual strawberry plant, then you may have success with prolonging its growing season within your heated greenhouse. Just remember, if you are going to grow strawberries from seed in your greenhouse, then you’ll have to pollinate them.

2. Potted Peppers

If you have a pepper plant that is doing particularly well, then you may decide that you want to put that plant in a pot.

But instead of bringing it in your house over the winter to transplant next growing season, you could put it in a heated greenhouse and care for it until the next year. It should also help to prolong its production.

3. Potted Tomatoes

We had the best luck growing tomatoes in our greenhouse one year. It was really warm, and they absolutely thrived. Our greenhouse wasn’t heated, and it still prolonged their growing season.

So if you put them in a heated greenhouse, it is possible to have tomatoes up until Christmas in some areas or longer. Just take care of them and meet their environmental needs and see how far the plant will go.

4. Potted Squash

Squash is another one I’ve actually seen people in my area producing in their greenhouse. Some of my neighbors had a particularly good year with certain squash plants, so they put them in pots and took them to a heated greenhouse.

From there, they cared for them and enjoyed their harvest with a prolonged growing season into the winter months.

5. Potted Fruit Trees

This was originally why I built our original greenhouse. I had purchased some fruit trees and wanted to put them in a greenhouse so I could have fresh fruit all year long. I never got around to heating our greenhouse, so I just planted the fruit trees in the ground.

But you can carry potted fruit trees into greenhouses to protect them, and they will produce for a prolonged period of time.

6. Most Potted Summer Vegetables

Basically, anything that you can put in a pot and care for in the right environment will usually produce a prolonged growing season. This includes growing into the winter months in some cases.

So if there is something you really enjoy, you can try starting the plant earlier in a heated greenhouse, or try to get it to grow later in a heated greenhouse as well.

7. Onions

Onions are something that does not require a heated greenhouse to grow during the winter. As a matter of fact, onions can usually withstand being outside in the winter elements and still produce.

But if you’d like to save yourself the trouble of hunting onions in the snow, then plant them in your greenhouse and watch them grow.

8. Garlic

via Spin Farming

Garlic is something that takes a while to grow. A lot of people actually plant garlic in the coldest of temperatures.

So if you want to start your garlic a little easier by putting it in your greenhouse, then go for it. It won’t require any heat for it to grow.

9. Spring Onions

I’m a huge fan of spring onions. They just taste so delicious when they go on top of a hot bowl of soup. It is no wonder I’m so thrilled that they can be grown in a greenhouse that is not heated.

Again, they are an onion. This means they are hearty and can survive without a greenhouse period. So growing them in a greenhouse will work as well.

10. Spinach

via The Self Sufficient Living

Spinach was one of the first things I ever grew in my cold frame greenhouse. It is hearty, so it doesn’t require any heat.

Also, you can get a large harvest from spinach in a shorter period of time. You can also use it to make delicious salads or warm meals too.

11. Broad Beans

Broad beans are a sturdier green bean that is big and fat. They are planted in fall gardens sometimes because they are heartier.

So it is no surprise that they can be grown in a cold frame greenhouse. The greenhouse will keep the frost from them, and they should produce quite well.

12. Peas

Green peas are another vegetable that is hearty and actually prefers to be planted in colder temperatures.

However, I must warn you that you need quite a bit of them to make a decent harvest. So unless you have a large greenhouse you may not get much bang for your buck.

13. Potted Asparagus

Asparagus is another plant that can survive outside in the cold without any help. Also, you should know that asparagus is a perennial that gets larger and better with each passing year.

But if you wanted to grow asparagus in a cold frame, you could either create a section within your greenhouse for it to grow year after year, or you could put some in a pot in order to move it around and enjoy a harvest in colder temperatures as well.

14. Winter Mix Lettuce

via Gardening Info Zone

Lettuce is another vegetable that really prefers cold weather. When the weather gets too warm it will wilt.

But if you grow leaf lettuce, you’ll get a large harvest, it grows very well in cold temperatures (this was another vegetable I grew a lot of in my cold frame greenhouse), and it does really well without any additional heat.

15. Collard Greens

Greens are cold hearty vegetables too. That is why a lot of people plant them in their fall garden and keep them around until brutal frost finally kills them off.

But if you want to enjoy fresh greens over winter, then plant them in a cold frame. I’ve grown them in a cold frame myself and always had a nice turnout.

16. Mustard Greens

Mustard greens are another green, so obviously they will do well in a cold frame greenhouse over winter as well.

So if you want a spicier green to add some additional flavor to a warm meal or fresh salad, then you might want to consider growing these.

17. Carrots

Carrots prefer cold weather as well. There again, that is what makes them a great fit for a cold frame greenhouse set-up.

So if you enjoy carrots, you could either plant them directly in a bed in your greenhouse, or you could plant them in a pot and place it in your greenhouse. I did the latter of the two and had great success.

18. Pak Choi

Pak choi looks like a smaller version of romaine lettuce to me. Only it is a lighter color green. It is also known as Chinese cabbage.

So if you’d like to add a little variety to your cold frame greenhouse this winter, then you might want to consider growing this too.

Well, those are your options for growing in a greenhouse over winter and also a list of vegetables you could grow in a heated or cold frame greenhouse over winter.

Now, realize, depending on where you live it may make growing certain things a little more difficult, but it never hurts to try it out, right?

So I want to hear from you now. Do you grow vegetables in your greenhouse over winter? What do you grow?

We love hearing from you, so leave us your thoughts in the comment section provided.

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Here’s The Catch with Winter Veggie Growing

You have to pay attention. If you’re used to 3-season gardening from spring to fall, you’re used to taking the winters off. But with winter vegetable gardening, you need to watch the weather and adjust things accordingly.

  • On warm days, when it’s dry and the temperatures are above freezing (0°C /32°F and higher), I open up the lids on my raised beds to let more sun and air in. By late afternoon, it’s often time to close the lids again.
  • On damp, freezing days, I keep everything tucked in nice and snug.
  • Also, the crops may need occasional watering. If you shut off your outdoor water lines in the winter, have a plan for how you will bring water to your cold frames or polytunnels.

A Few Mishaps…

  • A few years ago, I had the unusual situation of a super warm mid-winter warm spell. My raised beds heated up so much that the cabbage worms emerged and started eating my plants! You can see more in the video below.
  • I also (stupidly) positioned some of the beds right near the house roof overhang, and during a quick thaw, the melting snow poured down around the raised beds and flooded them. So yes, like any time of year, you need to pay attention.

But, other than keeping an eye on things, and coming out to select dinner greens, and occasional watering, it’s pretty low maintenance. And there’s something incredibly cheerful about defying winter with these lush, green plants!

Watch Winter Growing TV

Try It Yourself

It’s definitely a learning curve (and adds a new set of winter tasks) to become a winter vegetable grower, but once you taste the plants grown this way, there’s no turning back: these fresh, local veggies are sweet and delicious.

I hope you’ll give it a try. Gardening season does not have to end in autumn.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener | Amazon

~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛

Brassica oleracea var. capitata

Cabbage is one of my all-time favorite cool weather crops to grow in my garden.

What is not to love about cabbage? Vibrantly colored, packed with nutrients, and quick to mature, these crunchy garden giants are a timeless classic that never seem to get old.

I enjoy eating them raw in salads or cooked in stir fries, and I especially love them fermented as sauerkraut.

Cultivation and History

Cabbage is a cultivar of Brassica oleracea and is the same species but a different cultivar of other popular cole crops such as cauliflower, broccoli, and kale.

Heading cabbage has been a part of the human culinary story for a very long time and was likely domesticated sometime around 1000 BC where it was developed from wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. oleracea) which is found along the limestone cliffs of western Europe.

Cabbages became a significant part of the European diet by the middle ages. In Rome, it was a highly regarded vegetable considered something of an indulgence and was often used medicinally.

Around the same time, the Chinese and other Asian peoples developed their own versions from related brassic species which evolved into the Nappa cabage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis) as well as bok choy (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis). Later they developed their own Brassica oleracea cultivar called Gai lan or Chinese brocolli (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra).

The vegetable came to the Americas by sea in the 1500s. It had become a staple on sea voyages because it was easy to preserve, and its high concentration of vitamin C helped prevent scurvy on long journeys. Sauerkraut was used to prevent gangrene and treat wounds.

Later, other cultivars of Brassica oleracea were developed into the red cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra) and savoy (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. sabauda).

These days, cabbages are a mainstay in culinary traditions around the globe. From sauerkraut, to coleslaw, cabbage rolls, and golabki, a Polish dish made with boiled cabbage leaves filled with minced beef or pork, onions, and rice, the variety of ways humans have devised to prepare and enjoy this staple crop are impressive.

This plant may look simple, but it has so much to offer! It is a no brainer in the garden, and luckily, it is a cinch to grow.

Propagation

From Seedlings/Transplanting

Perhaps best grown from seedlings, start plants early in spring, about 8 to 10 weeks before the last expected frost, so you can harvest before the summer gets too hot.

Transplant into the garden when plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, or 2 to 4 weeks before last frost, leaving 12 to 18 inches of space between each plant.

Don’t forget to harden off plants before transplanting!

For fall plantings, start seedlings in summer about 12 to 14 weeks before the first expected frost, transplanting into the garden when plants have reached 4 to 6 weeks of age. Fall is a great time to grow cabbage, as these cold tolerant crops tend to improve in flavor after exposure to light frosts.

Cabbage should be planted in full sun, in well-draining soil amended with organic material.

From Seed

Seeds can also be sowed directly as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.

It can also be seeded repeatedly throughout the season for a continual harvest, though plants may need additional care and protection to survive the heat of summer. Check out our guide here to learn more about succession planting techniques.

Thin seedlings when they are about 5 inches tall.

How to Grow

Since cabbage are heavy feeders, it is important to incorporate plenty of aged manure or compost into the garden bed prior to planting. Using a garden fork, mix in a few inches of compost or aged manure and water thoroughly before setting out seeds or transplants.

You can also try adding a nitrogen rich amendment such as blood meal to the soil.

It is also important to ensure an appropriate pH range, 6.5-6.8 is ideal. Keeping the soil pH above 6.8 will help prevent clubroot, a common cabbage disease that thrives in acidic soil.

Continue to provide nitrogen boosts to growing plants, especially as heads are beginning to form. Side dress with compost every few weeks, use a liquid organic fertilizer, or apply a homemade liquid fertilizer such as comfrey tea, which is made from soaking comfrey leaves in water for a few days to draw out nutrients.

Don’t Let Them Split

One thing to watch for when growing cabbage is the splitting of heads, which can be caused by heavy rain, often following a bout of dry weather. Splitting happens when the roots absorb too much water at one time and leaf tissue expands quickly. Unable to handle the pressure caused by a sudden increase in water, firm heads are split apart.

Splitting can also be caused by over fertilization of plants close to the end of the growing season.

To prevent splitting, keep plants well-watered. Be sure that the soil stays consistently moist, especially when harvest time is approaching.

Applying a thick mulch around the base of each plant will help regulate soil moisture.

As an added benefit, heavy mulching will also help build soil, prevent nutrient leaching, and help keep plants cool in the heat of summer. Mulching can also be use to protect plants in the late fall and winter.

Root pruning is a technique that can help reduce the amount of moisture plants can absorb, preventing splitting. Prior to an expected heavy rainfall, twist plants gently or cut off a few roots using a sharp knife.

It is also a good idea to stop feeding plants once heads have started to firm up.

Growing Tips

Use shade covers in the heat of summer to keep young plants cool.

Use season extension tools such as row covers to get an early start in spring and/or keep plants growing later into the fall.

Always rotate crops to retain soil fertility and reduce risk of disease.

Cabbage does well when planted near aromatic herbs, which can help repel unwanted pests and improve the flavor of heads. Try planting near sage or rosemary to help deter cabbage moths.

Don’t plant cabbage near other brassicas, they will attract the same pests and diseases.

Avoid planting near strawberries, which can inhibit the growth of cabbage family plants. Similarly, planting near tomatoes can harm growth of tomato plants.

Cultivars to Select

The following are a small selection of some of our favorite varieties.

‘Golden Acre’

Golden Acre cabbage is a hardy heirloom variety that is resistant to yellowing diseases and can be grone in USDA climates zones 3-12.

‘Golden Acre’

It produces heads that 5-7 inches in diameter and can be harvsted 65 days after planting and can be sown directly into the dirt or started as seedlings.

Golden Acre is sweeter than most with a delicated flavor.

Find seeds at True Leaf Market.

‘Brunswick’

Brunswick is a longtime favorite that produces large, bright green heads.

‘Brunswick’

This heriloom is an extremely versatile variety that can be planted at any time throughout the season and needs 85-90 days to maturity to produce a six to nine pound head.

Seeds can be purchased from Eden Brothers.

‘Early Jersey Wakefield’

This is a cabbage with a pedigree. Early Jersey Wakefield has been a staple in North America since the 1840s. This variety produces a 7 inch head weighing in at 2-3 pounds and is slightly coned shaped with a sweet flavor.

‘Early Jersey Wakefield’

The beauty with this cultivar is that it reaches maturity in just 60 days from planting.

Find seeds now at Eden Brothers.

Managing Pests and Disease

There are a number of common pests and diseases that can affect cabbage plants. The following are some common problems to watch out for:

Pests

Cabbage Loopers

These very common and sneaky little pests can appear at any time during the growing season and can quickly munch their way through the leaves, leaving plants damaged and weak.

Caterpillar of Cabbage Looper moth (Trichoplusia ni).

Because the caterpillars are green, they blend in easily with the plant and can be hard to see. The bigger they grow, the more damage they cause.

One larva can eat three times their body weight in one day!

Adults are gray-brown moths, which deposit small green eggs on plants that hatch as destructive larvae in only a few days. You can also look for small silky cocoons on stems or undersides of leaves.

Handpick loopers whenever you spot them.

Plant aromatic herbs that attract beneficial insect predators.

Floating row covers can help keep moths from landing on plants and laying eggs

Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth on plants that are showing signs of infestation.

Make a homemade spray with garlic, cayenne pepper, and biodegradable dish soap and apply to the underside of leaves.

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are small jumping insects that chew small holes in leaves. They overwinter in the soil and become active in spring when foliage begins to appear. Look for tiny white eggs around the base of plants or in the soil.

Cabbage stem flea beetles (Psylliodes chrysocephala) love brassicas.

If an infestation becomes severe, they can destroy entire plants. They tend to feed on hot, sunny days.

Flea beetles can also transmit diseases to plants, so it is doubly important to keep infestations under control.

Floating row covers can be very effective when placed over young seedlings.

Diatomaceous earth sprinkled on plants can also kill flea beetles.

Neem oil, which is approved for organic use can also be sprayed on plants to kill beetles in all life stages.

Read more about combating flea beetles here.

Root Maggots

Root maggots are white legless critters that lay eggs at the base of young plants. The adult tiny grey flies lay eggs around the base of plants in the spring. The maggots feed underground on roots, causing rotting, and potentially plant death. Wilting leaves with occasional yellow or blue foliage can be signs of damage.

Tunnels created in roots by maggots can also harbor diseases such as black rot.

Cover with floating row covers as soon as seeds are sown or transplant sets in to reduce the risk of problems.

You can also apply paper or cardboard rings around the base of transplants to prevent flies from laying eggs around the stem.

Sticky traps placed around the garden can be effective traps for cabbage flies.

Practice crop rotation to reduce the risk of continued infestation.

Need More Pest Identifcation Information?

Read our complete guide on cabbage pests here.

Disease

Clubroot

This soil borne fungus can infect most brassicas including cabbage. It infects plants through root hairs, causing roots to become deformed and rot, and making nutrient and water absorption difficult.

Common signs include wilting in heat and yellowing or browning of leaves.

Spores can spread by water, wind, or tools, and can live in the soil for up to 10 years. Though disease can appear in many conditions, too much moisture and low soil pH may increase risk of infection.

There is not much you can do after plants have become infected, other than to remove infected plants and wash gardening tools after use.

Prevention is key. Choose resistant varieties, rotate crops, and apply lime to raise soil pH.

Blackleg

Another common brassica infecting fungus, this disease causes dark spots on stems and leaves. It can overwinter in soil, on plant debris, and live in seeds. It is common in warm and wet conditions but can appear at any time.

Avoid planting infected seeds, remove infected plants, and remove and destroy crop debris after harvest.

Black Rot

This bacterial disease that turns leaf veins dark and produces a foul smell. The pathogen can spread throughout the plant through the vascular system, and eventually cause leaves to wilt and die.

Black rot of cabbage is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris.

It is common in wet and warm conditions, and especially thrives in overcrowded garden beds.

Plant crops in a well-draining area to reduce risk. Practice crop rotation, avoid overwatering, and remove infected plants.

In general, the best practice is prevention. Choose disease resistant varities, rotate crops regularly, and remove all parts of cabbage plants from the garden after harvest to prevent diseases and pests from lingering in the soil.

Harvesting

Time to harvest can vary with variety and can range anywhere from 2 to 5 months from seeding.

Harvest cabbages when the heads are large and firm. Leave the wide outer leaves and cut the head out of the center with a sharp knife.

Move harvested plants into a shady location immediately or bring inside to avoid wilting.

It may be possible to get a second harvest of an early variety. If you leave the outer leaves and roots intact when doing the initial harvest, the plant will send up several new heads. Pull some off, leaving a few smaller ones to harvest when they are about the size of a tennis ball.

Once you are finished harvesting, remove the entire plant to reduce the risk of disease. Compost healthy plants but destroy those that have become diseased or infested.

Preserving

When storing, keep all leaves on the heads to protect the inner layers and retain moisture and do not wash until ready to use. Cabbage should be stored in a cold, moist location, about 32-40°F.

In the refrigerator, a head can last from 3 weeks to 2 months. Store in plastic bags to retain moisture.

To store in the root cellar, place heads in rows with space between them, hang from string off the ceiling, or store individually on the floor wrapped in newspaper. stored in this way, cabbages can keep for up to 4 months.

Tip: if you harvest the full plant, store roots in root cellar through the winter, and replant them in spring after a thaw. they will produce small edible sprouts, and eventually go to seed which can be saved for the following years crop.

Heads can be chunked up or shredded and be frozen, or of course, my favorite, fermented into sauerkraut!

Quick Reference Growing Chart

Plant Type: Biennial grown as an annual Water Needs: 1.5 inches per week
Native To: Europe Maintenance: Moderate
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 1-10, depending on type Soil Type: Nutrient rich
Season: Spring and fall Soil pH: 6.5-6.8
Exposure: Full sun Soil Drainage: Well draining
Time to Maturity: 30-60 days Companion Planting: Aromatic herbs, onions, beets, celery
Spacing: 12-18 inches Avoid Planting With: Strawberries, tomatoes
Planting Depth: 1/4-1/2 inch Family: Brassicaceae
Height: 12-14 inches Genus: Brassica
Spread: 18-24 inches Species: B. oleracea
Tolerance: Salt, frost, heavy lime Cultivar group Capitata
Pests & Diseases: Caterpillars, cabbage loopers, sawflies, aphids, cutworms, root maggots, whiteflies, flea beetles, white spot/leaf spot, black rot, downy mildew, clubroot, blackleg

Stock Up Your Kitchen

Cabbage is nutritious and really a garden must have. Grow your own using the guide above and fill your kitchen with creamy casseroles, crunchy salads, and spicy kimchi all winter long.

What is your favorite thing about growing cabbage? Share you experience in the comments below!

And if you love your brassicas, you’ll love reading about cabbage’s brothers and sisters:

  • Growing Kohlrabi: The Hearty, Above-Ground Root
  • A Flavor You’ve Come to Love: How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
  • 10 Best Broccoli Varieties for Your Garden

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About Heather Buckner

Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!

How to plant:

Propagate by seed

Germination temperature: 45 F to 85 F – Will germinate at soil temperatures as low as 40 F.

Days to emergence: 4 to 7

Seed can be saved 5 years.

Maintenance and care: Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before average last spring frost. Keep soil warm (about 75 F) until germination. Then keep plants around 60 F. Provide direct sun so plants don’t get leggy. When plants are 4 to 6 weeks old, transplants into garden 12 to 24 inches apart, in rows 18 to 34 inches apart. Use closer spacings for smaller, early varieties, wider spacings for larger, late-season varieties.

Can be direct seeded as soon as you can work the soil. Will germinate at soil temps as low as 40 F. Plant ½ to ¾ inch deep, about 3 inches apart. Thin to final spacings.

Direct seed in summer for fall crop, or start transplants in late May and transplant in late June or early July.

Plants have shallow root systems. Avoid even shallow cultivation. Mulch to protect roots, reduce weed competition and conserve moisture.

Use floating row cover to protect crop from early pests.

When heads are mature, they are prone to splitting in response to any stress or a rain following a dry period. Avoid splitting by choosing varieties that resist splitting, spacing plants close together (8 to 12 inches for early varieties, 12 to 16 inches for later varieties), using shovel to sever roots on one side about 6 inches from the plant, or twisting plants after heads have firmed to break some of the roots.

To help reduce disease, do not plant cabbage or other cole crops in the same location more than once every three or four years.

Pests: Cabbage aphids – A hard stream of water can be used to remove aphids from plants. Wash off with water occasionally as needed early in the day. Check for evidence of natural enemies such as gray-brown or bloated parasitized aphids and the presence of alligator-like larvae of lady beetles and lacewings.

Cabbage root maggot – White maggot larvae tunnel in and feed on roots of plants. Damage causes wilting early on, death of plants later on.

Cabbageworms – Handpick and destroy. Row covers may be useful on small plantings to help protect plants from early damage. Put in place at planting and remove before temperatures get too hot in midsummer.

Flea Beetles – Use row covers to help protect plants from early damage. Put in place at planting and remove before temperatures get too hot in midsummer. Control weeds.

Cutworms – Control weeds. Cardboard collars around each plant give good protection.

Other pests:
Cabbage loopers
Slugs
Nematodes

Diseases: Clubroot – Locate new plants in part of garden different from previous year’s location. If soil infested, add lime to raise soil pH to 7.2

Purple blotch (Alternaria porri ) – Avoid wetting foliage if possible. Water early in the day so aboveground plant parts dry as quickly as possible. Avoid crowding plants, allowing air circulation. Eliminate weeds around plants and garden area to increase air circulation. Practice plant sanitation. When plants are not wet, remove and destroy affected plant parts. In autumn rake and destroy all fallen or diseased
leaves and fruit.

Other diseases:
Cabbage yellows
Black rot
Black leg

In 1996 Bonnie Plants initiated the 3rd Grade Cabbage Program in and around headquarters in Union Springs, Alabama, with a mission to inspire a love of vegetable gardening in young people, teach kids where their food comes from, and grow our next generation of gardeners. By 2002 the program grew to become a national endeavor, including the 48 contiguous states. Each year, Bonnie trucks more than one million free O.S. Cross, or “oversized” cabbage plants to 3rd Grade classrooms across the country*, whose teachers have signed up for the program here. If nurtured and cared for, kids can cultivate, nurture and grow giant cabbages, some bigger than a basketball, tipping the scales, often over 40 pounds!

The program awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each participating state. At the end of the season, teachers from each 3rd grade participating class select the student who has grown the “best” cabbage, based on size and appearance. A digital image of the cabbage and student is submitted online and that student’s name is then entered in a random statewide drawing. State winners are randomly selected by office of the Commission of Agriculture, in each of 48 participating states.

As one of the first companies to sponsor a national vegetable gardening initiative for kids, Bonnie Plants has delivered over 18 million cabbage plants nationwide, fostering an interest in gardening, healthy eating, and the environment along the way.

“The joy of gardening and the satisfaction of growing healthy food are gifts that kids never outgrow,” says Stan Cope, CEO of Bonnie Plants and grandson of founders Livingston and “Miss Bonnie” Paulk. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to share these gifts with the next generation of gardeners.”

Why a cabbage? Cabbages were the first profitable crop sold by Bonnie in 1918. The cabbages utilized for the program are the O.S. Cross variety, which is known for producing giant, oversized heads, making the process even more exciting for kids. To date, the largest cabbage grown tipped the scales at 75 pounds! Seeds for this program are generously donated by American Takii Seed Company, the breeders of the O.S. Cross hybrid cabbage. This is an impressive old variety that was an All-America Winner in 1951.

Click here to find out how the program works.

* Exclusions: Alaska and Hawaii.

Any member/employee/immediate family of Bonnie Plants and/or a Bonnie Plants affiliate is not eligible for inclusion and/or participation in the program, selecting a class winner and/or the random selection of a state winner. The term “immediate family” includes children, step children, siblings, step siblings, grandchildren, spouses, parents (including in-laws), step parents, and grandparents.

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