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Brassica oleracea, var. Capitata

This lesson concentrates on the ‘central’ part of the cabbage family, the ‘Capitata’ heading cabbage. In English, the heads are also called hearts.

Heads and leaves

Heads can develop from spring right through to autumn, and in winter for Savoy cabbage. They originated in the Savoy region of 16th century France, and have their own genetic group called Sabauda.

  • Kale is closely related to cabbage, as shown by ‘tree cabbage’, whose harvest is leaves; this illustrates one of many possibilities in this huge plant family.

Spring cabbages can either be heads, or leafy plants. There are varieties bred to grow only tender leaves, sometimes called spring greens. They include Greensleeves and Wintergreen Improved. You could also pick outer leaves of cabbage to eat, but this would delay and reduce the heading process.

Cabbage is biennial and, if heads are not cut in autumn, plants will make flower heads from them the following spring. Flowering may also happen in summer, from very early plantings sown in late winter, when their heads are left unpicked.

Pixie, a spring cabbage, has grown to a good size in April, when the soil might otherwise have been empty
With a couple of amazing cabbage heads – the white Filderkraut weighs 5.9 kg/13 lb and made seven large jars of sauerkraut; there is 2.4 kg/5.3 lb of red cabbage Granat – second plantings from June after clearing broad beans
Supposedly perennial Asturian, a tree cabbage – in its first November from an April sowing

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 80–220, depending on variety and time of year.
  • Best climate is temperate, moist; winter may be cool but summer not too hot.

It’s possible to cut a cabbage almost any month of the year in temperate climates.

  1. Cabbage for white heads, sown mid-February to mid-March, is ready from June to July.
  2. Cabbage for red and white heads, sown early May, is ready from September to November.
  3. Cabbage Savoy, sown by late June, is ready from December to March.
  4. Cabbage, spring-sown mid to late August, is ready from April to May.

You can certainly eat cabbage all year. Heads of cabbage make wonderful pickles such as kimchi and sauerkraut, and they keep well too, especially in winter months.

October – a bed containing Savoy cabbage, parsnips and spring salad onions; all to be harvested between winter and early spring
A spring feast in mid-March – one of the freshly picked vegetables is a Paresa Savoy cabbage, and a selection of vegetables from the store
Shumei red cabbages looking beautiful in the autumn sun

Why grow them

Cabbage is luxury food! It’s also easy to grow, as long as you are in control of potential pests.

You can have a range of harvests over long periods. Homegrown cabbage, when no synthetic fertiliser is used, is tender and full of fine flavour.

There are also the wonderful microbes when soil is healthy. These are good for you in coleslaw and help in pickling. The sauerkraut recipe we use is very simple:  

  1. Chop cabbage finely, even in quite long lengths if you wish.
  2. Pack into a clean jar and cover with water, which has added salt in the proportion of 30 g/0.5 oz per litre.
  3. Best result is from having a sealed lid and from placing a larger cabbage leaf on top of the cut cabbage, to keep the latter below the level of liquid.
  4. You notice a bubbling for two to three weeks, and then the pickled leaves are good to eat, full of flavour and with good microbial quality.
End of September – Filderkraut cabbage chopped for sauerkraut
The sauerkraut in a jar, ready for storage

Suitable for containers/shade?

Cabbage can grow in shade.

For container growing, choose small varieties like the spring cabbages below. Even though they are called ‘spring cabbage’, you can sow them in summer for harvest in autumn – a top variety is Duncan F1, for pointed heads.


Below are the four seasons of potential harvests, and information on which varieties give the finest and biggest harvests at each time.

Spring harvest

In temperate regions, you can sow cabbages for spring either in late summer or late winter, and the varieties below are possible at either time. In cold climates, it’s best to sow these in early spring because they might perish in winter – try it once to see.

Advantage, Cape Horn, Caraflex and many others are good. They are all F1 and grow pointed heads of low weight, usually under 1 kg/2.2 lb.

Spring cabbages Cape Horn F1 in a frost in early May – these were sown mid-February, transplanted at spring equinox and were under muslin for a few weeks
A week before sowing carrots, the Cape Horn F1 is half harvested and cleared – there’s no pest protection required at this late stage
2nd June – Caraflex F1 cabbage is ready for harvest; these were sown in February

I used to grow the open-pollinated Greyhound until it declined in quality, as you can see the photos below.

A Greyhound cabbage at the start of June 2012, in the days when you could rely on this variety making a decent head
25th June – Fothergill’s Greyhound cabbages with no heads; they were sown in February and should have headed up over a month ago – they just grew some more green leaf

Summer harvest

These varieties are for sowing in late winter to early spring, and they need longer to mature compared to spring cabbage. One nice result is that the heads are often heavier.

Their speed of growth also means that heads do not stand very long before splitting. You can cut them when pale and firm to convert to pickle, or store for up to a month. Either way, you free up the ground for more plantings.

Cabbice, Kalibro, Stonehead are all F1 and make pale green, round heads of medium to heavy weight. The Cabbice below had fleece over for four to five weeks, after being transplanted in late March.

Cabbice F1 cabbage looking fantastic on 25th June, the same date as the empty Greyhound above; both were sown at the same time in February
Cabbice F1 again at the summer solstice, from an early February sowing – good to cut now or for about two weeks

Autumn harvest

These are for harvest in autumn and can also be stored through winter, as long as they make firm heads. Filderkraut heads are impressively tight, while the San Michele is looser and more green – nice for eating fresh, see below.

Filderkraut makes a heavy pointed head of up to 5 kg/11 lb, Granat makes a smaller but dense round head up to 3.5 kg/7.7 lb, while Tundra F1’s head is more savoyed and less dense. The white stems are delicious raw, just trim off the fibrous outer layer before eating.

  • In my Three-Strip Trial, Granat gave 19.25 kg/42.4 lb of trimmed heads from nine cabbage = 2.1 kg/4.6 lb each
  • Filderkraut gave 38.46 kg/84.8 lb from nine cabbage = 4.3 kg/9.5 lb each
139-day-old Filderkraut – was transplanted mid-June into a bed that had previously grown broad beans; both plantings were fifth-year consecutive in the same bed
The intricate heart of a 4.2 kg/9.3 lb Filderkraut cabbage
A pretty San Michele cabbage in late September, sown on 19th May

Winter harvest

Mostly these are the Savoy type. Their crinkled leaves keep more air in the heads, allowing expansion of ice when they freeze, rather than heads splitting.

There are also autumn-heading Savoy varieties, so check the description every time. It helps when you know what to expect. Paresa, Wirosa, Wintessa are all F1 and mature in winter, from June sowing.

Now in December, this Winterfurst Savoy cabbage was sown six and a half months earlier, and transplanted into this bed after the spring onions
In mid-November, this Tundra F1 stands well – you can see how it’s a blend of Savoy and white cabbages
Paresa F1 Savoy cabbage is weathering a 4° C/39 °F frost well in January

To sum up a little:

  • Each variety has a best sowing date for biggest harvest.
  • The date of harvest depends mainly on variety, but also on the sowing date. You can vary the sowing date for any one variety, to make its harvests a little earlier or later.

Two examples :

  1. Cabbice’s best season to grow before heading is spring, for heavy heads by midsummer. Sow Cabbice in February for an early July harvest of heavy heads. If you sow Cabbice in June, the  October harvest is of lighter heads.
  2. Filderkraut heads up most strongly in autumn. Sow in early May for heavy heads by October. Alternatively, sow in early June for lighter heads by late October to November.
sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


When I am harvesting, I also carry a bucket for waste, weeds and diseased materials, which will then go on the compost heap. This means that, when harvesting cabbage for example, as soon as it has been cut I twist the stem to remove it.

You can even stand with your two feet on the soil around the base of a stem as you twist, in order to less disturb the soil. The result is that only a few roots are left on the stem, with most of them in the soil.

Before throwing a stem on the compost heap, cut it lengthways into two or four thin lengths in order to speed its decomposition. You could halve these with the knife, since their reduced diameter makes that possible.

By 4th June, we are clearing plants as first harvests finish – in this case many cabbages had made nice heads before we cleared the remains, and I then sowed carrots; beyond are parsnips
Spring cabbage, all cleared by early June, and no need for new compost; I then transplanted summer salads
Dancing with the wheelbarrow and compost, after having cleared the bed of cabbage

Follow with

This depends on when you cleared the cabbage.

Check my Sowing Timeline for possible new plantings. There is also a southern hemisphere version available on that page. Some examples include:

  • Sow carrots or transplant beetroot after spring cabbage.
  • Transplant leeks or chard after summer cabbage.
  • Sow garlic or transplant broad beans after autumn cabbage.

Grow anything after winter cabbage, except perhaps more brassicas. Or you could transplant salad onions, and then follow them with more Savoy cabbage for winter. I have done that.