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GARDENING

Fresh Cabbage Can Be A Heady Experience

October 03, 1998|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You haven't really tasted good coleslaw until you've sampled slaw made with fresh cabbage. While store-bought cabbage often is picked weeks before you buy it and can be tasteless, fresh cabbage is flavorful, crisp and juicy.

In addition to the typical green, smooth heads of cabbage, there is purple cabbage and savoy, which has crinkly leaves. Baby cabbages are only 4 inches around, and Oriental cabbages such as pak choy and bok choy look more like a cross between celery and lettuce.

Cabbage grows well here during the winter months, said Dennis Glowniak, growing chairman for the California Organic Gardening Club. "Plant cabbage now and you'll have tasty heads for months to come," he said.

To have good results growing cabbage, keep the following tips in mind.

* Consider cabbage types. Early season cabbage grows for just 45 days and creates a small 1 1/2- to two-pound head. Late season grows for 90 to 100 days and makes large 6- to 8-pound heads, and mid-season heads are 4 to 5 pounds, ready for harvest in about 75 to 80 days.

Just about any variety can be planted now, although early season types should be planted after December or January so they'll mature before warm weather comes.

* Find cabbage plants at the nursery, or for more variety, grow your own from seed.

Plant seeds about half an inch deep in small containers. Seedlings should emerge in 7 to 10 days, but don't transplant out in the garden for about five weeks. Plants should be at least 3 inches high. (Avoid plants becoming root bound, however.)

* Plant in full or part sun. Amend before planting with homemade or bagged compost, which should be worked into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil.

Do not mulch around cabbage, as mulch will attract several pests that can be damaging, including sow bugs and earwigs. To keep weeds down, cover the area with plastic and make holes for planting.

* Space early cabbage types about 18 inches apart and larger varieties at least 2 feet apart.

* Containerize cabbage. Grow three early-season varieties in a half-barrel-size container or six to eight baby heads of cabbage in the same size pot.

When growing in containers, use a high-quality potting soil, bolstered--according to package directions--with a well-balanced organic fertilizer that contains micronutrients.

* Larger cabbage types tend to fall over toward the end of their growth cycle. Avoid rotting by supporting the cabbage so that it doesn't come in contact with wet soil.

* Cabbage roots are shallow, so keep the plants moist but not soggy. They generally require very little water during the rainy months.

* Foliar feed cabbage weekly with a solution of sea kelp or seaweed. Mix the fertilizer into a watering can and pour on the plant.

* Watch out for pests. Besides sow bugs and earwigs, aphids and cabbage loopers also are attracted to cabbage.

Control aphids by spraying plants with a strong, steady stream of water twice a week. Cabbage loopers are green inchworms that can quickly eat a plant. They should be hand-picked or treated with BT (bacillus thuringiensis). Or avoid them altogether by covering your cabbage with floating row cover, which prevents the moths from laying their eggs on the foliage.

* Harvest cabbage heads when they have grown for the time specified on the seed packet and have reached the correct size. Don't wait too long, or you'll end up with cracked heads that have lost flavor. Pull up the whole plant when harvesting.

The California Organic Gardening Club meets Oct. 22 and on the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at 9621 Bixby Ave., Garden Grove. Information: (714) 761-8130 or (714) 971-7954.

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