We recently received a question through Facebook: “What is the difference between cabbage and ornamental cabbage?”
What a great question. The quick answer is, “Not much.” Ornamental cabbage, also called flowering cabbage, has been bred for its showy appearance. Hybridizing has focused on the ornamental value of the plant while ignoring any concern for taste and flavour.
The great attraction of ornamental cabbage, apart from its fabulous colour late in the season, is the fact that it peaks after several heavy frosts. It is a showy member of the Brassica family. If you have grown cabbage, you can easily grow your own ornamental cabbage. If you have never grown cabbage, we are here to help. By the way, this advice is applicable if you are growing any member of the “cabbage” family, or the brassicas. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, turnip, bok choi, kohlrabi and kale. Now is the time to get started.
Step One = Soil Prep
Your ultimate success in the veggie garden will depend on proper soil preparation. There is no better time of year than spring to take care of this ever-important task. We haul in a truckload of quality compost and begin planting season by spreading it over Mark’s acre of veggie gardens and Ben’s allotment garden.
Last year’s garden used up much of the nutrition in the soil. Spring is the time to replenish it with generous quantities of finished compost. Buy quality compost by the 20 kg bag at your favourite garden retailer and look for composted cattle or sheep manure that is certified by the Compost Quality Alliance. Spread it 3 to 5 cm thick and resist the temptation to ‘dig it in’, as that is an unnecessary step. Instead, let the earthworms work your compost into the soil for you. Within about six weeks, they will have pulled the compost down into the sub soil and converted it into earthworm castings.
Plant transplants in your garden now. We use a cold frame for protection while hardening off young seedlings but if you purchase yours from a retailer you can plant them directly into the soil now that it has warmed up. Set out transplants when all danger of frost has passed. Choose a location in full sun.
Allow 18 inches (45 cm) between plants. If your goal is to produce smaller heads of cabbage, reduce the spacing between plants. If you are gardening in limited space, look for compact growing varieties.
Cabbage requires warm, rich, well-drained soil. The plants have a shallow root system which makes them sensitive to weeds and uneven watering. Water plants deeply (2.5 cm) once a week. As with all vegetable crops, be sure to remove weeds by hand to avoid damaging roots. Water deeply after weeding to help roots recover from any disturbance.
We recommend shredded cedar bark mulch around each plant. This helps to significantly reduce the growth of weeds, premature splitting of the cabbage head and it retains moisture in the soil. Use a “veggie tunnel” to protect your crop from common insect problems and sun scald. A tunnel is a loosely-spun polyester cover that is suspended by U-shaped supports which allows sun and moisture in but keeps many insects such as the cabbage moth and flea beetles out. An effective, chemical-free pest control solution that also helps insulate against early spring and late fall frosts.
Recommended edible cabbages:
Late Flat Dutch is a later-maturing variety with large heads which can weight up to 12 lbs. Excellent for winter storage.
Gregorian Hybrid is a dependable, early producer with tightly wrapped, average sized heads. (Average 18 cm, 7.5 in.)
Golden Acre is a compact, heirloom variety that matures early and tolerates closer spacing, which makes it perfect for gardeners with smaller spaces.
Recommended ornamental cabbages:
Kamome – Leaves are fringed with ruffles. Kamome cabbage is available in a mix of stunning colours: red, white and pink.
Red Peacock – A hybrid with serrated leaves. Colour is purple with red centres. Plant close together to encourage longer leaves. Great for cutting. One of the few ornamental cabbage that Ben will eat.
Growing your own cabbage is an excellent opportunity to produce a crop that makes the most of quality soil, converting soil nutrients into delicious and nourishing crops in small and large gardens alike.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.