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Kale is a very old form of cabbage, but here I will be focusing on some of its great grandchildren, the modern, headed cabbages in the Brassica oleracea Capitata Group.
It’s easy to think it’s we humans who have gained the most from the human-cabbage relationship. But if you think of the time we’ve devoted to cabbages, with generations of breeding and selecting the strongest, biggest and best, they’ve done all right too. They are biennial plants, but we grow them as annuals, harvesting before they mature and set seed.
Capitata means ‘headed’, and there are three main types in the group. The most widely grown are the white or green types, which can be bluish green, grassy green or yellowy green. This is split further into three subgroups, determined by the shape of their head – conical, drumhead and ball head. The other less commonly grown types are
Savoy, with their looser heads and distinctive crinkled leaves, and rubra or red, which have tight heads and deep purple glossy leaves, and are just as beautiful in a flower border as a vegie patch.
4e best cabbage heads are grown in coi^and moist conditions. In cool areas, they can be grown throughout the year, while in hotter areas, they are best grown in autumn and winter.
I prefer to raise plants from seed in trays rather than sow directly in the ground. Seedlings can be planted out after about a month, then you’ll be able to watch them expand. They are available to buy as seedlings, but select your cabbage plants carefully, and look for signs of stress – pale leaves, leggy growth and insect damage.
Select an open, sunny position where their giant leaves can make the most of the sun’s rays. Sweeten acidic soils with garden lime or dolomite to help prevent calcium deficiency and club root, a common disease problem. Give them a rich, well-drained soil, and when I say rich I mean triple-choc-mud-cake rich, with a healthy serving of compost and well-rotted manure, plus a good sprinkling of a complete organic fertiliser. They can grow to the size of a small moon, so need a fully stocked pantry and deep drinks when it’s dry.
Harvest when the heads are firm and have developed to the desired size. Pull up the whole plant then trim off the unwanted outer leaves, so it’s ready for the kitchen.