Heading cabbage can be harvested when the head is about the size of a softball—5 inches (12 cm) or more across, squeeze it to test firmness.
There are dozens of varieties of cabbage. It is important to read up on the variety you are growing to know what to expect. Some varieties can stay in the gardens for weeks after they are firm and solid, others must be harvested right away.
Cabbages prefer cooler growing temperatures, between 55°-75°F/13°-24°C.
Early or spring cabbages mature in 50 to 60 days. Midseason varieties planted in early spring take 75 to 85 days to reach full size. Late-season or storage varieties need 85 to 200 days to reach harvest from transplanting.
In cold winter regions, cabbage is a spring and fall crop. In warm-winter regions, cabbage is a winter crop.
Cabbage heads can withstand temperatures down to 20°F (-6°C) but if a serious freeze is predicted, you should either pull the crop from the garden or protect it under a layer of straw.
Cabbage for fall harvest will form just one head on each plant. Set aside the larger and firmer heads for long winter storage. Use the others within a month or so.
Cabbage for spring or summer harvest can produce two, three, or four heads before winter. Harvest winter or spring-planted cabbage when the heads are small—not larger than a softball. When you cut the first head, cut as close to the head as you can leave as much of the stem as possible, also leave four to five of the plant’s lower leaves. From each leaf left on the stem, a smaller, loosehead (about the size of a baseball) will grow. These mini-cabbages make tasty salads and will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Headed cabbage can be cut from the base of the plant with a sharp knife when it feels solid and firm. If the head feels loose and flimsy, let it mature longer. If you cut the head and leave some of the stalk behind, smaller heads will form for a second harvest.
You also can harvest cabbage by pulling up the plant roots and all.
If a cabbage head starts to crack before you are ready to harvest, give the head a 180° twist at ground level; the twist will break off some the roots and slow the head’s growth. To slow the growth even further, give the plant another 90° twist. This will slow maturation and delay harvest of heads you do not need immediately.
At the end of the season, you can get a jump on next season by pulling up cabbage stalks and roots left behind after harvest and overwinter them in a trench dug in the garden and covered with straw or in a container kept in a chilly garage over the winter. In spring, re-plant the roots and stalks as soon as the soil is workable; these plants will produce early spring greens.
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