Why cabbage should be your first choice

There’s nothing worse than not having success with your first crop, so choose one that is cheap and easy to grow. In other words, choose cabbage.

Why cabbage should be your first choice
Use varied spacing when planting to get different cabbage head sizes.
Photo: Bill Kerr

When starting off with vegetables, you need a crop that’s easy to market locally. You must be able to grow it without paying too much money for equipment and the crop must be easy to grow. Taking these factors into account, cabbages is high on the list.

There are now enough seedling growers around the country so you can get seedlings without going through the hassle, learning curve and risks of trying to grow seedlings yourself. Don’t go for the cheap, open-pollinated varieties, you’ll get a lower yield. The new hybrid varieties have disease resistance, uniformity and appearance, which are all great benefits.

Preparation
Many farmers who are new on the land won’t have a fertiliser analysis and soil test to work from. So it’s best to work about 600kg of 2:3:4 per hectare into the soil. This works out to 6kg for a 10m x 10m area. If manure is available, this will also help to keep the plants healthy and well fed.

Spacing
Most buyers prefer larger cabbage heads, but some like smaller heads. Fortunately, you can grow the head size you require through the spacing. In a well-fertilised plot, you’ll get the same yield from 35 000 plants per hectare as you would for 70 000 plants per hectare. The only difference will be the head size and time to maturity. Wider-spaced cabbages will be ready earlier than those that are closer together.

A good starting point will be to make the rows 60cm apart. Plant 40cm apart in the row for large heads and 30cm apart for smaller heads. A week after transplanting, apply a side dressing of LAN near, but not touching, the plants. Apply one handful per 15 plants. Repeat two weeks later and again two weeks later.

These three applications will virtually guarantee a good yield. Don’t take short cuts to try and save money. If money is an issue, rather plant fewer cabbages the first time round and use the profits to expand. The above recipe is a proven one, so stick with it.

Pests
Start off by spraying the area to be planted with a pyrethroid insecticide to kill cutworms. Then watch the crop very closely for insects. Don’t spray if there are none, but make sure you start to spray as soon as they appear. The most likely pest will be diamond back moth larvae.

These are small shiny green caterpillars about 1cm long. Bollworms can also be a problem in summer. Thoroughly spray all parts of the plant with insecticide to which you have added a wetting agent (such as dishwashing liquid) so that the water doesn’t run off the leaves. For aphids (plant lice) use Aphox.

Weeds
Keep the area weed-free as weeds not only “steal” the fertiliser from the plants, they also compete for light.

This article was originally published in the 05 August 2011 issue of Farmers Weekly.