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Growing Cabbage

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                   GardenGuides Newsletter 
                        June 6, 2006

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Get Rid of Pests 
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* Start with Healthy Soil 
Keep a look out for pests; and to prevent them from coming, 
keep your soil healthy. Experts say healthy soil can prevent 
about 80 percent of insect damage. Healthy soil breeds 
healthy plants that are better able to resist pests. 
 
* Identify Friends and Foes
Observe your garden closely to see what insects are present, 
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guide can help you identify insects so you'll know what 
you're up against.

* Rotate Plantings 
Insect pests tend to feed on a plant and then lay their 
eggs in the soil below. When you plant the same thing in 
the same spot every year, the emerging larvae have a 
convenient food supply. However, if you move plants around 
from year to year, you make it harder for the larvae to 
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* Spray Safety 
Spray only as a last resort. Chemicals should be a last 
pest-control resort. Many pesticides are harmful to people, 
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and beneficial insects. If you must spray something on your 
plants, start with plain water -- it will kill some insects 
and force off many others. For a little more power, add an 
insecticidal soap to the water spray. 
 
* Use the Buddy System 
Some pairs of plants just seem to grow well together, often 
because one helps repel pests from the other. Employed by 
gardeners for centuries, this concept is called companion 
planting. Garden books can help you find good companions for 
your favorite plants. 

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Nature provides an army of allies in the form of predators 
that feed on insects. Your friends include birds, bees, 
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Growing Cabbage
By Linden Staciokas 

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that is sufficiently 
adequate when purchased from the grocery store, so only 
people who grow their own have tasted the special sweetness
of a cabbage picked at its tender prime and eaten right away. 
This year, however, there is even more incentive to try your 
gardening hand with Brassica oleracea, because the 1997 
theme of the Tanana Valley State Fair is "Attack of the 
Killer Cabbages."

Not that this vegetable needs the assistance of a fair 
competition to increase its popularity: cabbage has been a 
hit for centuries. Egyptians once worshipped it, and the 
Romans used it for medicinal purposes. Even today, Russian 
cuisine makes liberal use of cabbage, both in its raw form 
and when preserved as sauerkraut. With more than 2,000 
years of such far-flung notoriety, no one has been able to 
pinpoint exactly where cabbage originated, but lucky for us, 
it is one vegetable that thrives in cool surroundings.

It is too late to start your cabbage from seed, as that was 
a March task. However, local greenhouses offer an abundance 
of varieties in pale green, deep green, bright red and 
purple. (There are also many loose-leaf types, such as the 
Chinese cabbages, as well as plenty of ornamentals, but 
today I am confining my discussion to edible head cabbage.)

If you plan to enter the contest at the fair, O-S Cross is a 
breed that can be pushed to reach the super-size weight 
division. Once you have finished the hardening-off stage, 
set your seedlings deeper than they were in the six pack or 
individual container, by placing them in almost to the first 
leaves, you add stability and protect the stems from frost. 
And don't just pop them out and then plop them into the soil: 
gently massage the roots and try to spread them out a bit 
in the hole.

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Unless you have raised beds that allow for more intensive 
planting, or purposely want tiny heads that will be gone 
after serving two people one meal, space the seedlings at 
least 6 inches apart, in rows a foot away from each other. 
Be sure to tamp the soil down well, so that you eliminate 
any air pockets that could dry the roots. Like virtually 
every other vegetable, cabbage would prefer to live in soil 
that is rich and light. However, I have seen it tolerate 
soils of clay, as well as those that bear more than a pass-
ing resemblance to sand.

The more critical element seems to be what and how often the 
plants are fed--all brassicas grow with a speed that 
requires plenty of fuel. In my garden, this starts from the 
moment the seedling is being hardened-off. As exposure to 
the elements lengthens, thus increasing watering needs, I 
use a water soluble fertilizer that has been prepared with 
warm water. On the day of planting, each hole gets a handful 
of compost; in the years when I am short of that or aged 
horse droppings, I use purchased steer manure.

After the seedling is settled, I pour on more warm fertil-
izer. Three weeks into the season, I fertilize again, and 
then once more three weeks later. In years when I have an 
abundance of aged manure or compost with which to side-dress 
throughout the season, I may skip the second fertilizing. 
But never the first.

There are gardeners who grow their cabbages directly on top 
of their compost heaps, but I save that treat for my 
tomatoes. However, if you are vying for top honors in the 
Killer Cabbage competition, by all means top off your pile 
with some soil, set in those transplants and grow away.

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Michele Hebert, of Cooperative Extension, suggested in a 
column last week that gardeners might want to experiment 
with another system: dig 3-foot holes, fill them with fresh 
manure until only 6 inches of the hole is left open, and 
top off the last half-foot with your regular soil. Set in 
the cabbages, and use a fertilizer during your weekly 
waterings.

The final prerequisite to success, whether entering the 
fair's contest or not, is to keep the moisture levels even--
a sudden burst of watering after you have let the plant 
starve for water will often lead to split heads. And through-
out June I always use warm water on all my vegetables, 
ladled out from 33-gallon plastic garbage cans that have 
been standing in the sun. I am not sure brassicas need such 
coddling, but I figure even crops that prefer cool soils 
find our dirt less than inviting.

If your crop starts coming in too rapidly for your immediate 
use, and you fear that the remainder will split and spoil 
before you are able to use or process it, there are a few 
tricks that will slow everything down. One is to take a 
sharp hoe or knife and shove it down sharply on two sides of 
the plant, deeply enough to sever some of the roots. Or, 
grasp the head firmly and make a small sharp twist, just 
enough to break some of the roots. It doesn't take much, as 
the roots are close to the surface (which means you should 
take extra care you don't inadvertently damage the roots 
when you are hoeing).

A light fall frost will not kill your cabbages, but harvest 
them before a really beastly one occurs. Cut the heads off 
with a sharp knife and store in a cool basement, encased in 
waxed paper. My grandmother used to pull up the entire plant, 
roots and all, and hang it upside down in the basement. This 
works well, although between the hanging tomatoes and 
bunched herbs, my rafters are about full by mid-September. 

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