Cabbage Harvest Time – Information On Harvesting Cabbage
By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Learning how to harvest cabbage correctly provides a versatile vegetable that can be cooked or used raw, offering nutritional benefits. Knowing when to harvest cabbage allows one to get the most nutritional culinary experience from the vegetable.
Harvesting cabbage at the right time results in the best flavor as well. If done at the proper time, you are better able to take advantage of the nutritional benefits cabbage plants provide, like Vitamins A, C, K, B6, and dietary fiber.
When to Harvest Cabbage
The right time for cabbage harvesting will depend on the variety of cabbage planted and when the heads mature. Mature heads that are ready to pick need not be of a certain size to pick cabbage. Solid heads indicate when it is time for harvesting cabbage.
When heads are firm all the way through when squeezed, the cabbage is ready for harvest. Heads may be large or small when ready; the size to pick cabbage varies depending on the variety and the weather conditions the cabbage grew in.
Various varieties of cabbage come in and are ready for harvest at different times. The open pollinated Early Jersey Wakefield, for example, is ready in as early as 63 days, but most hybrid types reach harvest time from 71 to 88 days. This information should be available when you purchase cabbage for planting.
How to Harvest Cabbage
The most successful technique for how to harvest cabbage is cutting. Cut at the lowest point possible, leaving the loose outer leaves attached to the stalk. This will allow for a later cabbage harvest of sprouts which will grow on the stem after the cabbage head is removed.
Knowing when to pick cabbage is particularly important if rain is expected. Mature heads may be split by excessive rainfall or over watering, making them inedible. Harvesting cabbage should happen before the rainfall has a chance to damage the cabbage heads.
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Cabbage Growing and Harvest Information
Cabbage is an annual cool-season crop, hardy to frost and light freezes. A smaller cabbage head has better flavor and can stay in the field longer without splitting. To keep them small, plant close together or, when the head is almost full, give the plant a sharp twist to sever the roots.
Where to Grow Cabbage
Practically a national vegetable, cabbage grows best where there is a cool, moist growing season.
Recommended Varieties of Cabbage
There are many types of cabbages: green, red, savory (with crinkled leaves), and Chinese. For an extended harvest, gardeners usually choose early, midseason, and late varieties to ripen through the growing season, with some space left in the garden for the usual red and Chinese varieties.
- Early varieties are generally the smallest, juiciest, and most tender, but they store poorly and split easily.
- Golden Acre (yellows resistant) Stonehead Hybrid (yellows resistant) Market Prize Early Jersey Wakefield.
- Mid-season varieties keep better in the field.
- Greenback Copenhagen Market King Cole
- Late varieties, best for sauerkraut, provide the largest and longest-keeping heads.
- Danish Ballhead.
- Yellow varieties tend to be hotter than white.
- Vanguard Savoy King
- Ruby Ball Red Acre Mammoth Red Rock
- Dwarf Morden
Soil for Planting Cabbage
Cabbages are heavy feeders during their long growing season and need fertile, well-drained soil deeply enriched with compost and a high-nitrogen-potassium fertilizer such as 5-10-5 (1 pound/square foot) or generous quantities of blood meal, cottonseed meal, and ground rock phosphate. Cabbage needs abundant soil moisture to develop properly. Watering is important during any summer dry spell.
Start seed indoors in early February for setting out when the ground is workable for July harvest in mid-March for setting out May 1 for August harvest and in mid-May for setting out in early July for October harvest. Adjustments can be made to this schedule depending on the local climate.
|Germination||45 - 95 F|
|For growth||60 - 65 F|
|Soil and Water|
|Fertilizer||Heavy feeder high N and K may need to add lime to raise pH to deter clubroot.|
|Side-dressing||Every 2 weeks|
|pH||6.0 - 7.5|
|Water||Heavy early and medium late in the season|
|Seed Planting Depth||1/4 - 1/2"|
|Root Depth||1 - 5' |
|Height||12 - 15"|
|Width||24 - 40"|
|Space between plants|
|Space Between Rows||24 - 30"|
|Average plants per person||3 - 5|
|For eating fresh, cut the head at ground level as soon as it feels solid. Smaller heads may grow from the remaining leaves and stems. For best storage heads, pick when still firm and solid and before the top leaves lose green color. Pull the entire plant and roots from the ground. If left too long in the ground, the cabbage core becomes fibrous and tough, and the head may split.|
|First Seed Starting Date:||63 - 75 Days before last frost date|
|Last Seed Starting Date:||104 - 130 Days before first frost date|
|Companions||Artichoke, beet, bush beans, cucumber, lettuce, peas, potato, spinach.|
|Incompatibles||Basil, pole beans, strawberry, tomato|
In rows 2 1/2 feet apart, with 12-16 inches between plants. For late varieties, rows 3 feet apart and plants 2 feet apart.
One of the drawbacks in growing members of the mustard family is their susceptibility to many insect pests and soil-borne diseases. A general good gardening practice to follow is crop rotation. Never grow cabbage or any other Brassica in the same soil year after year. Rotate these plants on at least a 3-year basis, preferably on a 7-year basis. To prevent spreading soil-borne diseases, don’t compost any brassica roots pull and destroy infected plants.
|Some recommend curing heads in the sun for a few days before storing for long periods. Such curing requires covering at night. Because of the strong odors emitted, store in either a well-ventilated place or a separate room reserved for brassicas. To store, strip off all loose outer leaves. Hang by its roots, or wrap individually in newspaper, or layer in straw in an airy bin, or place several inches apart on shelves.|
|32 - 40 F||80 - 90%||4 months|
How Cabbage Grows
Cabbage is a wide-spreading foliage plant with handsome leaves that form a tight, hard ball head on a strong central stem. Young plants may bolt if grown at 50F for a long time however mature plants of late varieties improve flavor in cold weather.
For best results, the cabbage must be kept well fed and watered during the entire growing season. In dry weather, the heads form too soon, and with irregular growing conditions they may crack apart. Cabbages are shallow-rooted and difficult to cultivate without snapping some of the shallow feeder roots. Mulches work best to keep the weeds out. Feed with a high N-K fertilizer when seedlings are set out, again in 3 weeks, and again when the heads first start to form. Side dress by tracing a thin line of fertilizer along the row about 4 inches from the plants, scratch in lightly, and water. Water-soluble fish emulsion may be used.
When to harvest cabbage
Cabbage is ready to harvest in approximately 3-4 months. Cabbage heads must feel hard and solid before cutting. When harvesting, use a sharp knife to cut the head off at the base of the plant, keeping a few outer leaves to protect the head. The heads must be harvested promptly, or they deteriorate in the field. If there is ample cool and dry storage space, the heads may be harvested and stored for use. Or the ripe heads can be stored in the field by stopping plant growth. To do this, pull the plant up slightly from the ground until a few roots can be heard snapping. This will hold the plant for a short while until it can be picked. Some European gardeners have reported success in storing cabbage plants by burying them upside down in a deep soil pit with a thin straw flooring and covering them completely with soil to just below the frost line, with another straw mulch on top.
How do I know when my cabbage is ready to harvest?
QUESTION: How do I know when my cabbage is ready to harvest? Is there a way to determine if they are ready? Is it more tender if the cabbage heads are smaller? -Shannon W
ANSWER: It is extra important to harvest cabbage at the proper time, as cabbage heads that are harvested too soon or too late do not have as much nutritional value as those harvested at the appropriate time in the plant’s growth cycle. Some varieties of cabbage have a very narrow window of time in which they need to be harvested, with just a few days in which the optimal harvesting time can be met. Other varieties can go several weeks in the garden without beginning to deteriorate as long as the weather allows them. A general rule that applies to most varieties is the larger the head, the longer they will hold up while waiting for harvest.
The right time to harvest your cabbage plants will depend on the variety of cabbage that you planted, the weather conditions that they grew in and when the heads naturally mature. The size of the heads will not tell you whether they are ripe for picking or not, as cabbage head sizes vary greatly from one to the next. The firmness of the heads, instead, is what will indicate that your cabbage plants are ready to harvest.
When squeezed, the heads of your cabbage plants should be firm all the way through. The heads should be full and firm, with not too much give when you squeeze it. If the heads look full but feel a little soft when you squeeze them, let them mature for a few more days before harvesting. Looks can often be deceiving and cabbage heads may feel firm on the outside on the inside are still loose and flimsy. A good forceful squeeze on all sides of the head should let you know if it’s solid all the way through. If the heads feel solid and tightly formed, they are ready for harvest.
Use a sharp, stainless steel knife to harvest your cabbage. Using stainless steel is important because the carbon on other metals react with the phytonutrients in cabbage and cause the skin to turn black from contact. Use your sharp, stainless steel knife to cut through the stem just below the head. Remove the head, but leave the plant in the ground and continue to cultivate it. Oftentimes, if the weather is still cool, the base of the plant will develop smaller, mini-heads of cabbage in the place of the original head. The second harvest typically doubles the amount of food you can reap from one cabbage plant, and the smaller heads are also extra tender and tasty.
When some of the cabbage leaves still hang above the head can it still be harvesteds?
Harvesting headed cabbage
Headed cabbage, both kale or white cabbage, need a few months to grow, but this span of time is highly variable, depending on the cultivar.
Some varieties can be harvested 2 months after planting, whereas others need up to 7 months.
Wait for the head to have grown as large as a good-sized apple before harvesting your headed cabbage.
Harvesting Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts begin to ripen from the bottom up, as the main stem grows taller and taller.
You only need to break off a few of the largest tiny cabbage heads that grow along the side of it when you need a few. Don’t let get any larger than a ping-pong or golf ball, or they’ll get more and more bitter.
Cauliflower can be harvested practically all year round, depending on when they were sown.
Wait for the head to form well, then slice it off at ground level.
Harvesting broccoli cabbage
Broccoli is harvested when the main head is well formed and still tightly bunched.
Cut just about 2 inches (5 cm) below the harvested head, to let your broccoli grow on.
Harvesting napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage
This takes place in fall until frost spells hit, and even winter if the climate permits (mild winters).
Slice the head off at the base with a very sharp blade.
It's Harvest Time
You can enjoy a rich harvest of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts -- if you use your head at harvest time.
Harvesting Broccoli & Brussels Sprouts
Broccoli is like a trick candle you can't blow out. Once you pick the first head, the plant responds by producing more side shoots for you to eat. The first head is prime for cutting when its buds are packed close together without any sign of blossoming. Cut it off then, even if the head is smaller than you'd like. If you wait until the small yellow flower blossoms appear, the head will become bitter and the plant won't produce side shoots it's already gone to seed (bolted). If you spot any yellow blossoms, cut the broccoli. You may stop the bolting process in time, and side shoots may form.
Leave 2 to 3 inches of stem on the plant the second, lateral heads will branch out from there. Harvest these smaller spears on a daily basis, breaking or cutting them off the plant close to the main stem. Most of the broccoli stem is tender enough to eat, although the most tender part is at the top, nearest the newest growth. Again, if you harvest before these side shoots blossom, you should be able to keep the plant producing for weeks!
Brussels sprouts are easy to harvest. Starting when they're marble-sized, pick off sprouts from the bottom of the plant, moving up the stalk as you go. Also pick off any loose or soft buds, even if you aren't going to eat them, so the plant will keep producing new sprouts.
In the far North, you may be able to harvest Brussels sprouts into December or January, brushing aside snow to reach the plants. In more temperate climates, these extra-hardy plants will produce throughout the winter months.
Cabbage can be a challenge at midsummer harvest time because you can coax each plant into producing two, three or up to six heads for a fall harvest. To do it, you must harvest the first spring-planted cabbage when the heads are fairly small, about softball size. These small heads make terrific coleslaw for two. Leave four to five lower leaves on the plant, and from each leaf or two another small head may appear.
Of course, you can settle for just one cabbage from each plant. You have no choice in the fall, because your second crop of cabbage only has time to make single heads. Harvest the largest heads in the row the larger and firmer they are, the better they'll keep.
Harvesting Cauliflower and Friends
Cauliflower heads are ready to harvest as soon as they are blanched pure white and have grown to be 6 to 12 inches across. Each plant produces only one head, so make the most of your growing efforts and keep harvesting any heads that are ready. Simply cut off the head, leaving about 3 inches of stem to keep the florets intact.
Chinese cabbage is best harvested fully grown, although the leaves are edible right from the start. When the loose heads are 12 to 15 inches tall, cut them off at the base with a sharp knife. Harvest the largest heads first to make room for the rest to develop.
Kohlrabi should be pulled when it's 2 to 3 inches across. Don't let it grow any bigger or the bulb will become tough, bitter and woody tasting.
Although all of the cole crops are easy to freeze, cabbages will also keep in a root cellar or other winter storage facility.
To store cabbages, harvest only fully mature heads, handling them carefully to prevent bruising. Don't wash the heads or trim off any outer leaves these will help protect the heads.
Cabbages can be tricky to store for extended periods. They need cool, moist, dark surroundings, such as a root cellar with an even temperature. To prolong preservation, wrap each head in several thicknesses of newspaper. Check your stored cabbages often -- even slight rot can send out a three-alarm smell.
If you don't have a root cellar, you can make cabbage storage mounds outdoors with very little effort. Dig a deep hole, and line the bottom with a heavy layer of straw for insulation. Place the heads upside-down in the hole, cover them with more thick straw, shovel 4 to 5 inches of soil around the straw and leave an opening on top. Cover the opening with a board. Whenever you need a cabbage, dig down into the straw pit and repack the straw around the remaining vegetables when you're finished.
Late-season cabbage usually takes more than 85 days to mature under ideal growing conditions. These cabbage varieties typically are grown for storage as they keep better than early-season varieties, notes Cornell University. However, they can be harvested and eaten as soon as the heads are large enough to meet your cooking needs. Late-season cabbage is also often used to make sauerkraut. Consider late-season varieties such as 'Huron,' 'January King,' 'Blue Dynasty,' 'Late Flat Dutch' and 'Bartolo.'
Gardeners who prefer to harvest and eat cabbage before it fully matures often plant their cabbage plants closer than the recommended spacing. As they harvest the young cabbages by alternating heads, such as taking every other head, then the remaining cabbages have room to grow to maturity. This technique makes efficient use of garden space while providing fresh cabbage over a prolonged period.