Brassica oleracea capitata
This species has been cultivated as a food crop for many hundreds of years and, in that time, several quite distinct forms have arisen. The nomenclature of these forms is confused, to say the least, and by no means universally accepted. We have followed the treatment used by GRIN, though it is very likely to be revised in the future[
Brassica capitata (L.) H.Lév.
Brassica oleracea alba DC.
Brassica oleracea conica DC.
Brassica oleracea rubra L.
Brassica rubra Steud.
Common Name: Cabbage
Cultivated cabbages are biennial plants developed through cultivation from the wild cabbage. The plants have a highly shortened, not fleshy, stem base, they produce a few more or less horizontal leaves and then the leaves become strongly overlapping to form a compact, more or less globose head of leaves that can be 30cm or more in diameter.
The plant is very widely cultivated, especially in the temperate zone, for its edible head of leaves.
A cultivated form of Brassica oleracea.
Not known in the wild.
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The cultivated cabbage was developed in the temperate zone and can withstand quite cold winters. It can also be grown in the tropics - though there it is best grown at elevations above 800 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 15 - 24°c, but can tolerate 7 - 32°c[
]. When dormant, the plant can survive temperatures down to about -10°c, but young growth can be severely damaged at -1°c[
]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 500 - 1,000mm, but tolerates 300 - 2,500mm[
]. A difference of about 5°c between day and night temperatures appears to be necessary for adequate head development. Normally, flower initiation and stem elongation are induced by low winter temperatures of the order 4 - 7°c for several weeks[
]. Cabbages are adapted to 60 - 90% relative air humidity and low humidity may cause wilting[
Succeeds in full sun in a well-drained fertile preferably alkaline soil[
]. Prefers a heavy soil and a cool moist climate[
]. Succeeds in any reasonable soil. Succeeds in maritime gardens[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 7.5, tolerating 5 - 8.3[
There are three main types of cabbage:-
The common hearting cabbage has dark green leaves, becoming paler towards the middle of the heart,
Dutch cabbages form a much larger heart and the leaves, which have a milder flavour, are a pale green or even white.
Red cabbages, as the name implies, have red leaves.
There are many named varieties of each type and by careful choice of varieties it is possible to ensure a year round supply of fresh leaves.
Several cultivars are hardy enough to stand the rigours of a temperate winter, there are also some less-hardy varieties that can be harvested in early winter and stored for a few months in a cool place to provide leaves in areas with very severe winters[
Some varieties have been selected for the ornamental value of their leaves, these tend to be of poor culinary quality[
Early maturing varieties can be ready to harvest within 60 - 90 days from sowing, whilst winter or spring maturing forms can take 200 days or more[
Yields of cabbages varies widely depending on the cultivar grown, but yields are generally within the range 12 - 40 tonnes per hectare[
Leaves - raw or cooked[
]. Cabbages are generally used as a cooked vegetable, though the shredded leaves can also be eaten in salads. Dutch cabbages are generally sweeter and milder in flavour making them more suitable for raw eating. Those leaves in the heart of the plants are more tender than outside leaves and so are also more suitable for eating raw. These heart leaves, though, are less nutritious because they have been excluded from the light[
]. Many people find that the raw leaves give them indigestion[
]. The leaves can be fermented and made into sauerkraut, used as a health food and said to be good for the digestive system[
]. By careful selection of cultivars, it is possible to harvest cabbages all year round[
Seeds - sprouted and added to salads. Very good eating[
Cabbages are good companions for dill, camomile, sage, wormwood, mint and other aromatic plants which help to reduce insect predations on the cabbages[
]. Cabbages also grow well with potatoes and beet[
]. They grow badly with strawberries, tomatoes and climbing beans[
A blue dye can be obtained from the leaves of purple cultivars[
Seed - this can be sown from early spring to late summer in a seedbed outdoors, depending on the cultivar. The plants are moved to their final positions when about 7 - 15cm tall. Do not let the seedlings get overcrowded or they will soon become leggy and will not make such good plants. If your seedlings do get leggy, it is possible to plant them rather deeper into the soil - the buried stems will soon form roots and the plant will be better supported.
For a summer crop, the seed is sown in early to late spring, autumn maturing cultivars are sown in mid to late-spring and winter maturing cultivars in late spring. Winter to spring maturing cultivars are sown in mid to late summer, these are often sown in situ and thinned as required.
Seed of fast-growing summer cabbages can also be sown in a greenhouse in January/late winter in order to provide an early crop. This is planted out in early to mid-spring as the weather allows and can be harvested in late spring and early summer.