There are few crops that remain productive in the face of the extremes of a Scottish winter but spring cabbages, rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, and a high proportion of vitamin E, sown now, will stand their ground. Sowing spring cabbage seeds this month means they will be ready to be planted out in autumn and begin fattening up before the onset of winter, ready to harvest next year in the hungry gap from April onwards.
There are four different types of cabbage, identified by the time of year when they are harvested: spring, summer, autumn and winter (savoys).
Early spring cabbage is a sweeter, leafier green and some people do call them spring greens. When picked in early spring the vegetable is loose-leafed as it has not firmed up yet enough to have developed a heart.
Cabbages can be sown either directly in the ground outside, or in modular trays and left outdoors. If you only want a few cabbages or have limited space, it is easier to sow one seed per module in a tray then transplant later. Although cabbages do best in open ground, you could grow one or two in a large, deep container, but they are not suitable for grow bags.
If sowing directly outside, make sure the soil is well firmed by shuffling along the surface on your heels. Then rake it level, creating a fine, crumbly texture. This helps to anchor the plants through the worst of the weather.
Make a 1cm (½in) deep drill, then sow the seeds thinly along it at 30cm (12in) apart, in rows 30cm (12in) apart.
Cabbages need a sunny site and well-drained soil with a pH of 6–7. If the soil is too acidic (less than 6), it is important to put down lime a month or so before planting to balance it out. Take care not to grow cabbages in the same spot where you grew them, or other brassicas, the previous year.
When modular-sown cabbage plants have five or six true leaves, they can be transplanted to their final growing position.
Water them well the day before.
Set the plants in their new hole so the lowest leaves are at ground level. ‘Puddle’ in the plants with plenty of water – this means filling the hole with water several times before adding soil.
Water plants in prolonged dry spells – a thorough soak every 10 days should be enough although a typical Scottish winter should provide enough of a drenching.
Pull soil up around the stems to prevent them from getting rocked in strong winds.
Plants will need protecting from pigeons.
Cut cabbage leaves as spring greens from April onwards. If plants have been closely spaced, harvest alternate ones, leaving the remainder to heart up.