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Growing organic cabbage has many benefits for your health and the environment. Health benefits include a higher vitamin C content.
Organic growing practices aim to harmoniously produce food with nature without using synthetic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, or harmful substances. Organic growers rely on natural processes to maintain crop health.
Some examples of organic growing practices are composting, cover cropping, crop rotation, organic seed selection, biological pest management, and soil resting.
Choosing Organic Cabbage Seeds or Seedlings
Choosing organic cabbage seeds or seedlings is essential for gardeners who want to grow healthy and delicious cabbages. Organic seeds are not treated with synthetic chemicals or genetically modified; they may offer more diversity and flavor than conventional seeds.
Seedlings are young plants that have been started indoors or in a nursery, and they can save time and effort for gardeners who want to transplant them directly into the garden.
Cabbage seeds, including early-season, mid-season, late-season, and storage varieties, are available. Each type has different maturation times and characteristics that suit different climates and harvest preferences.
For example, early-season varieties can be planted in early spring for an early summer harvest. In contrast, late-season and storage varieties can be planted in summer for a fall or winter harvest.
Some popular organic cabbage varieties include Farao, Ruby Perfection, Tiara, Caraflex, and Omero.
Starting Organic Cabbage Plants
To grow cabbage from seeds, it is best to start them indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date for spring planting or 10 to 12 weeks before the first frost date for fall planting.
Sow about half an inch deep (12mm) in pots, trays, or soil blocks, and keep them moist and warm until they germinate. Transplant seedlings into the garden when they have 4 to 6 true leaves, spacing them about 12 – 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) apart, depending on the variety.
Alternatively, you can buy organic cabbage seedlings from a reputable nursery and plant them directly into the garden at the same spacing.
Cabbage plants prefer cool temperatures (especially during maturation), full sun, rich soil with good drainage, regular watering, and organic mulch. They may also benefit from companion planting with dill, sage, thyme, or mint that repel pests such as cabbage worms.
Sourcing Organic Seeds
Sourcing organic seeds is an integral part of eco-friendly gardening efforts. Organic seeds are free of GMOs and chemical pesticides and support a healthy and diverse organic seed industry.
According to the USDA organic regulations, organic gardeners must use organic seeds when they are commercially available, meaning they can obtain them in an appropriate form, quality, or quantity for their needs.
Gardeners should contact multiple seed suppliers to source organic seeds and document their efforts to find equivalent organic varieties of the crops they want to grow. There are many online and local sources of organic seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and cover crops.
Certified organic cabbage seeds are seeds that have been produced according to organic standards without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. Certified organic cabbage seeds offer several benefits for growers and consumers, such as:
- Preserving the genetic diversity and integrity of cabbage varieties
- Ensuring high quality and flavor of cabbage heads
- Reducing environmental impact and health risks from chemical residues
- Supporting organic farmers and seed companies
Certified organic cabbage seeds are available in different types and varieties, such as green or red, smooth or savoy-like, early or late season, fresh market, or storage. If you are looking for reputable organic cabbage seed suppliers, here are some tips to help you find them:
- Look for certified organic suppliers by a recognized authority, such as CCOF or USDA. This means they follow strict standards for organic production and handling of seeds.
- Check the variety descriptions and characteristics of the seeds different suppliers offer. Some suppliers may specialize in certain types of cabbage, such as green or red, smooth or savoy-like, and early- or late-season.
- Compare the prices and shipping costs of different suppliers. Some suppliers may offer discounts for bulk orders or free shipping for specific amounts.
- Read customer reviews and ratings of different suppliers. You can learn from other growers’ experiences and feedback about the seeds’ quality, germination, flavor, and disease resistance.
- Contact the suppliers directly if you have any questions or concerns. They may be able to provide more information about their seeds, such as origin, purity, germination rate, and storability.
Selecting Organic Seedlings
Choosing healthy, organic seedlings can significantly impact your garden’s success. Organic seedlings are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and are better suited for organic gardening. Here are some tips on how to choose the best organic seedlings for your garden:
- Look for short and stocky seedlings, not tall and leggy. Tall seedlings may have been grown in low light or crowded conditions and may not transplant well.
- Check the roots of the seedlings. They should be white and firm, not brown and mushy. Avoid seedlings that are root-bound or have roots growing out of the drainage holes.
- Examine the foliage of the seedlings. They should be bright green and healthy-looking, not yellow or wilted. Avoid seedlings with spots, holes, or signs of pests or diseases.
- Read the label of the seedlings carefully. Make sure they are certified organic and non-GMO. Choose varieties that are suitable for your climate and growing season.
- Ask questions at the nursery or garden center. Find out how the seedlings were grown, what kind of soil they are in, and how to care for them after transplanting.
Preparing the Soil for Organic Cabbage
Cabbage is a crop that requires a lot of nutrients and moisture to grow well. To prepare the soil for organic cabbage, you should till the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and add plenty of well-rotted manure and compost to improve drainage and increase organic matter.
Cabbage prefers slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. If your soil pH is too low or too high, you can adjust it by adding either lime or sulfur. Cabbage also benefits from a balanced fertilizer applied before planting and during growing.
Soil Testing and Amendments
Soil testing is a valuable method to determine the relative acidity or alkalinity of the soil (pH) and the level of several essential nutrients needed for plant growth. Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients in the soil.
A pH test measures soil acidity or alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14, where 7.0 is neutral, lower than 7.0 is acidic and higher than seven is alkaline. A good range for cabbages is between 6.0 and 7.5.
You can use a home testing kit or an electronic pH meter or send a sample to a soil lab to test your soil’s pH level. To test your soil for nutrient deficiencies, you can use a do-it-yourself kit that measures primary nutrient content such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
You can also send a sample to a soil lab for a complete analysis that includes micronutrients such as iron, manganese, copper, and zinc. Based on the test results, you can adjust your soil pH and nutrient levels by adding lime or sulfur to raise or lower pH and applying appropriate organic fertilizers to correct nutrient imbalances.
Organic soil amendments can improve the soil structure, drainage, nutrient availability, and beneficial microorganisms for cabbages. Some examples of organic soil amendments are compost, manure, bat guano, and organic fertilizers.
These amendments should be mixed into the soil in the fall or at least two weeks before planting cabbages. Organic soil amendments can help cabbages grow strong, healthy, and productive.
Cabbage is a heavy-feeding vegetable that requires a lot of nutrients to produce large and healthy heads. Organic fertilizers are suitable for cabbage as they provide balanced nutrition and improve soil health. Some of the best organic fertilizers for cabbage are:
- Fish emulsion: This liquid fertilizer contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It can be applied through sprinklers or misting systems every two weeks.
- Chicken manure: This solid fertilizer is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and it also adds organic matter to the soil. It should be composted before applying to avoid burning the plants.
- Green manures: These crops are grown and plowed into the soil before planting cabbage. They improve soil structure, moisture retention, and nutrient availability, suppress weeds and reduce erosion. Some examples of green manures are clover, alfalfa, and ryegrass.
Planting Organic Cabbage
Cabbage is a cool-season crop that can be grown in spring or fall. To plant organic cabbage, start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost or sow them directly in the garden two weeks before the last frost.
Transplant seedlings 12 inches apart in rows 2-3 feet apart. Plant density affects cabbage sizes. Choose a sunny location with well-drained, loamy soil rich in organic matter and pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Water regularly and fertilize with balanced organic fertilizers every 2-3 weeks.
You can also add kelp meal to the soil for extra micronutrients. Harvest cabbage when the heads are firm and store them in the refrigerator for later use.
Proper Spacing and Planting Techniques
Organic cabbage is a nutritious and delicious vegetable that can be grown in your garden. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil rich in organic matter to plant organic cabbage.
You can sow the seeds directly in the ground or start them indoors and transplant them later. The best time to plant cabbage is in early spring or late summer, depending on your climate. Cabbage needs regular watering and weeding to prevent pests and diseases.
You can also apply organic fertilizer or compost every few weeks to boost the growth and yield of your cabbage. Harvest your cabbage when the heads are firm and compact, usually after 60 to 90 days from planting.
Companion Planting for Pest Control
Companion planting is a gardening method that involves growing certain plants near each other to benefit from their mutual interactions. For cabbage, companion planting can help repel pests, attract beneficial insects, improve soil nutrients, and enhance flavor.
Some of the best companion plants for cabbage are marigolds, onions, beets, celery, thyme, sage, oregano, chives, catnip, dill, basil, calendula, and nasturtiums. These plants can deter common cabbage pests such as aphids, cabbage moths, root nematodes, and whiteflies.
They can also attract pollinators and predatory insects that feed on cabbage pests. Additionally, some of these plants can add nitrogen or other nutrients to the soil or improve the taste of cabbage by releasing certain chemicals.
Organic Pest and Disease Management
Organic pest and disease management in cabbage crops involves a range of preventive and control practices that aim at reducing the damage caused by various pests and diseases.
Some preventive practices include crop rotation, intercropping, mulching, sanitation, and resistant varieties.
Some control practices include spraying natural pesticides such as neem oil, stinging nettle liquid, horticultural soap, sulfur-based fungicides, or vinegar; using biological control agents such as parasitoids or predators; or using mechanical control methods such as hand-picking or trapping.
Biological Pest Control
Beneficial insects are any of several species of insects that perform valued services like pollination and pest control. They can be categorized broadly as either predators or parasites.
Predators actively search and consume multiple prey items, such as aphids, mites, caterpillars, and other insects. Parasites develop in or on a single host from eggs or larvae deposited by the adult parasitoid.
Some examples of beneficial insects are lady beetles, green lacewings, tachinid flies, and wasps. Beneficial insects can be attracted by planting companion plants that provide nectar, pollen, or shelter.
Organic Pesticides and Fungicides
Pest and disease management is challenging for organic farmers and gardeners who want to avoid synthetic chemicals. Fortunately, many safe, organic options can help control pests and diseases without harming the environment or human health. Some of these options include:
- Neem oil: A natural insecticide derived from the seeds of the neem tree that disrupts the growth and reproduction of many insects.
- Diatomaceous earth: A fine powder made from fossilized algae that dehydrate and kills insects with exoskeletons.
- Spinosad: A natural substance produced by a soil bacterium that kills various pests but is safe for pets and people.
- Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt): A microbe that infects and kills caterpillars and other larvae without harming beneficial insects.
- Sulfur: A mineral that can be used as a fungicide to prevent fungal diseases in plants.
- Organic herbicides: Products from plant oils or acids that can kill weeds without harming crops or soil life.
- Beejamrit: A seed treatment formulation made from cow dung, cow urine, and lime that protects seeds from soil-borne diseases.
These are some examples of organic pest and disease management options that can be used in different situations. However, always following the label instructions and certification guidelines when using any product is essential.
It is also advisable to use integrated pest management (IPM) principles, such as crop rotation, biological control, cultural practices, and physical barriers, to prevent pest and disease problems before they occur.
Harvesting and Storing Organic Cabbage
Harvesting and storing organic cabbage requires some care and attention. Cabbage heads should be harvested when firm and compact before they split. Cut the stem below the head with a sharp knife, leaving 2-3 wrapper leaves for protection.
Cabbage can be stored for 2-6 months at 32°F and 95% relative humidity. Alternatively, cabbage can be shredded, frozen, dehydrated, canned, or fermented for longer preservation.
Organic cabbage is a cool-season crop that can be harvested in the early spring or fall. To harvest organic cabbage without contamination, cut the stalk at the base of the head with a sharp knife, remove and compost the outer leaves, and wash the heads carefully.
Harvesting cabbage in the morning when the heads are crisp and still cool is best. You can store harvested cabbage heads in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or use other preservation methods such as canning, freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, or pickling.
Storing and Preserving Organic Cabbage
Organic products must be stored to prevent them from blending with non-organic products or contacting prohibited substances. Commingling and contamination can compromise the products’ organic integrity and result in certification loss. To maintain organic integrity during storage, some tips are:
- Clearly label organic products and separate them from non-organic ones using physical barriers, adequate distance, or different storage areas.
- Use packaging materials, containers, or bins that do not contain synthetic fungicides, preservatives, or fumigants.
- Clean and sanitize storage areas and equipment before storing organic products if previously used for non-organic products.
- Monitor and document storage practices to ensure organic standards and regulations compliance.
FAQs on How to Plant and Grow Organic Cabbage
How long does it take for an organic cabbage to grow?
An organic cabbage typically takes about 80 to 180 days to grow, depending on the variety and growing conditions. Cabbage prefers cool temperatures and consistent moisture, and it can be planted in the spring or fall for best results. Some varieties, such as Chinese cabbage, mature more quickly than others.
What is the best method for growing cabbage?
Cabbage grows best in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-6.8. Plant seeds indoors or sow directly in the garden after the last frost. Keep soil moist and weed-free, and fertilize regularly. Cabbage benefits from mulching and should be harvested when heads are firm and dense.
What is the best month to plant cabbage?
The best month to plant cabbage depends on your location and climate. Generally, cabbage can be planted in early spring or late summer for a fall harvest. In colder climates, it’s best to plant in early spring, while in warmer climates, planting in late summer is recommended to avoid the heat. Check with your local gardening center or cooperative extension for specific planting dates.
The key to growing cabbages organically is to cooperate with nature and limit the impact fertilizers have on nature.
It takes time for a system to stabilize, so give your organic gardening efforts at least two years for the full impact to become efficient.