Cabbages hold a status as one of the best veggies to grow in South Africa during the cold winter months. These leafy greens are not only nutritious but also relatively easy to grow. By following a few essential guidelines, you can ensure a successful cabbage harvest that will guarantee that you have veggies to eat throughout the year. This is also a great way of making money by selling cabbages that you've grown to the informal market in the country (South Africans love cabbage!). In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the step-by-step process of planting, growing, fertilizing, and harvesting cabbages in the unique climate and conditions of South Africa. Let's go!
Choosing a Cabbage Variety
South Africa seed banks and seed suppliers have done incredible work in developing and hybridizing the perfect cabbage varieties for the South African climate. On our test farm, we used the Mayford Conquistador hybrid cabbage. It has produced the best results out of all the cabbages that we have planted before. Commercial farmers most likely have other favourites, but try checking out the Mayford range of cabbages by visiting their website.
We have also enjoyed using the Drumhead common variety from Living Seeds.
It must be mentioned that imported seeds, and wonderfully rare varieties, might look intriguing, but if you are looking for cabbage seeds to produce a harvest that is bountiful then always make sure that you choose a local seed bank for this purpose. South Africa has plenty of arable land, but we actually have quite a harsh environment, and you can lose many plants to the harsh winters or the incredibly hot summers: using a plant that has been developed in this climate will lead to success.
Cabbages prefer fertile, well-draining soil with a pH level between 6.5 to 7.5. This is considered centre-neutral, so if your soil is slightly acidic then the cabbage is likely to suffer. If we are using kraal-manure or very rich composts we usually lightly lime our soil a week before tilling or forking (we do this by applying between 2-3 handfuls of lime for every square meter).
Once the soil is PH-ready, begin by tilling the soil to a depth of about 60 centimeters, removing any debris, stones, or weeds. Incorporate organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve its structure and nutrient content. This not only enhances water retention but also boosts soil fertility.
Planting Your Cabbage
In South Africa, cabbage cultivation can be a year-round affair, but it is essential to choose the right time based on your location and local climate. In cooler regions such as the Highveld, plant cabbages during the warmer months (August to October), while in warmer regions such as the Lowveld (Polokwane and Nelspruit) and coast, consider planting during cooler months (March to May).
Start cabbage seeds in pots, plugs or trays about 6 to 8 weeks before the intended planting date. Transplant the seedlings when they have developed four to six true leaves. Ensure proper spacing between plants, typically around 45cm to 60cm apart in rows that are 60cm to 90cm apart. Ridges will typically have 2-3 rows.
Watering Your Cabbage
Cabbages require consistent and adequate watering to develop into healthy, full-grown heads. Regularly water the plants, aiming for at least 10mm to 15mm of water per week for seedlings. Once the cabbage plant has eight leaves, extend this to 20mm of water per week. Once heads start forming or if weather starts getting very hot, you can make a 40mm watering per week. For those home growers, an easy watering schedule can be utilised by applying 5L of water per week to each plant pair (at intervals) or 10-15L at later stage or when the weather starts getting overly hot. If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, find out the rate of millimeters of water per m2 so that you can accurately apply water to your plants.
Be cautious not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot and other diseases. Additionally, consider using drip irrigation to deliver water directly to the plants' roots, minimizing water waste and reducing the risk of fungal diseases.
Fertilizing Your Cabbage
To support the heavy growth of cabbages, a balanced fertilization schedule is important. Before transplanting seedlings, add a slow-release, balanced fertilizer into the soil. Our Nitro-Gro fulfills this function perfectly. We mix a 20ml/Liter dilution and saturate seedling trays sufficiently during germination period and seedling growth period. We fertilize once a week when possible. Once planted, we keep the same dilution and feed each plant approximately 250ml-500ml every two-three weeks. Then, when the cabbage starts developing a firm head, we switch to our K+ Booster plant-stimulant, reducing Nitrogen and increasing Potassium and Phosphorus.
Avoid excessive use of nitrogen, as this may result in large, leafy plants with underdeveloped heads. Remember, phosphorus is essential for promoting root development, so choose fertilizers with a healthy NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) ratio, just like our BioAge Nitro-Gro.
Stopping Pests and Disease
While cabbages in South Africa are relatively hardy, they are still susceptible to pests and diseases. Regularly inspect your plants for signs of common cabbage pests such as cabbage worms, aphids, and cabbage loopers. If infestations are minor, hand-picking the pests can be an effective solution. Alternatively, consider using organic insecticides.
To prevent diseases like clubroot and blackleg, practice crop rotation and avoid planting cabbages in the same spot year after year. Applying neem oil or copper-based fungicides preventatively can also help protect your cabbages from various diseases.
Make sure that you plant cabbages in rotation with legumes as they will fix nitrogen into the soil which will feed leafy crops like cabbage. Alternatively, any brassica or lettuce will do well where a legume has been planted in rotation beforehand. Try to avoid rotating with pumpkins, cucubits and tomatoes, as the disease and fungus associated with these plants will affect cabbages too.
harvesting Your Cabbages
As cabbages mature at different rates based on the variety and climate, monitor your plants closely to determine the ideal harvest time. Typically, cabbages are ready for harvest when the heads feel firm and dense, and the outer leaves are smooth and tightly wrapped. Use a sharp knife to cut the cabbage heads from the base of the plant, leaving a few outer leaves intact. Properly stored, cabbages can last for several weeks, providing you with fresh produce well after harvest.