Growing Giant Cabbages
8th Feb 2001
I personally have no interest in growing giant vegetables, although I do very often get called 'the man who grows large vegetables' as people are totally mixed up between the giant and show quality vegetables. However a lot of people derive a great deal of pleasure and fun from trying to grow a particualr vegetable to it's limits, and some of the results are often quite fantastic. This year in my seed catalogue I stock an old variety of cabbage called Brunswick and this one is in every sense a giant, once harvested you will need a wheel barrow to move it around!
It's an open pollinated variety and often called Cow cabbage in some parts of the country, if you want to have a bit of fun, then now is the time to be sowing the seed as it certainly needs a long growing season to achieve it"s optimum size. Sown now you could be showing some real giants towards the end of August and through September and as bonus it has a lovely flavour as well, particularly after it's had a bit of frost on it. Sow the seed now in a shallow seed tray using some multi purpose seed compost and spend time spacing the seed out individually so that each germinated seedling has the optimum amount of space to develop. Cover the seed over lightly with the same compost passed through a fine riddle and moisten the tray well.
As a tip when sowing seed, I always like to prepare all the seed trays first, that is if I intend to sow different type of seed at the same time. With peat based composts do not compact the peat to hard as you will drive all the air out of the compost which is not what you want to achieve. I first fill the tray to overflowing with the compost then lift the tray up and tap it down on the bench twice to consolidate the compost. Use a level, flat piece of wood to level off the compost by sliding it along the edges of the seed tray and finally use a flat board to lightly flatten and level the compost.
Now that you have taken time to get the compost nice and flat you certainly do not want to spoil your work by saturating it with a dribbling watering can leaving holes everywhere all over the surface. A far better method is to have another tray, obviously larger than the seed tray and half fill it with water before placing your seed tray on to it. Leave the tray in the water while you carry on filling other seed trays. In the meantime the compost, through capillary action, is taking in the water through the drainage holes in the bottom of the tray. You will know when the compost it saturated when the surface of the compost changes from a light brown to a dark brown colour.
After covering the spaced out seed with the fine compost give the surface a spray of water through a hand sprayer this will ensure that the seed are not disturbed and remain at the same depth that you sowed them. I personally never cover the trays over with glass, I much prefer to give the surface a light spray of water, do this on a daily basis if they look at all likely to dry out.
After the seedlings have germinated and showing two strong seedling leaves and just before the first true leaf, transplant the seedlings into individual small pots or cells. I much prefer to use cells for all initial transplanting and have used multicell 60s, 40s, and 24s with great success; the larger the seedling then use the larger cell when transplanting.
Place the seed tray in a propagator to germinate or leave on the bench if your greenhouse is heated to a minimum of 50°F.
At this time of year as well I will sow my red cabbage as they also need a fairly long season to gain a maximum size. My banker variety over the years in this class has been Autoro but this year I intend to sow one of my new varieties which the breeder assures me has superb dense heads with good colour and of a large size, the variety in my seed catalogue has the code name 'CLX4022' and is an F1 hybrid, however since my catalogue has gone to print it has now been named ‘Firebird F1'
With all these larger than normal cabbages do make sure that to achieve their optimum size and quality they must be looked after well, right through to planting out time by re potting on a regular basis until the weather has settled sufficiently to plant them out. Also make sure that you take time to harden the plants off well by first placing them in a cold frame and eventually outside in some shelter. Plant them in a well manured plot that ideally is free from club root disease. If you have clubroot though, then you can still achieve some really commendable heads by saturating the planting hole with a dilution of Armillatox to the makers recommended strength.
Finally do remember that to get really large heads you must give them ample room for development, it's no use at all planting them out a foot apart and eighteen inches between the rows, they will not achieve a large size. Ideally and for the super sizes, they need to be at least a metre apart and likewise between the rows. When planted out initially this sort of spacing will look far too much and the plants will appear lost on the soil, but believe me, when they really start growing in earnest, you'll be struggling to work your way in between them.
One other thing that cabbages like is plenty of Nitrogen by way of some regular liquid feeding, some Chempak 2 would be ideal, particularly during the initial stages to really get the plants moving along. Watering is another crucial element, give the plants plenty during their development and particularly if we have a hot Summer. Have fun and enjoy growing something that is going to be outstandingly large yet excellent to eat, provided you can manage to carry it into the house!