Thilaka Baskaran extols the virtues of the humble leafy cabbage
The humble cabbage does suffer from bad press thanks to the soggy, overcooked mass with the whiff of sulphur about it, served up in many homes. But you will discover that both nutritionally and gastronomically, cabbage is precious when stir-fried or eaten raw as a salad. Did you know for instance that cabbage is four times richer in vitamin C than oranges?
Though it can be grown all year through in Bangalore, the best time to raise cabbage is July. The vegetable does better in cooler climates. A descendent of a leafy family of wild mustard native to the Mediterranean, cabbage comes in three types — green, red and savoy.
Green is the most popular and they come in two varieties: the small-headed globular cabbage and the large-headed one, weighing up to three and a half kg each. Most home gardeners prefer the small-headed variety. The red cabbage is rich in anthocyanin, an antioxidant. The savoy cabbage leaf, used in salads, is thin and crinkled.
Sow cabbage seeds at 1cm depth in a seed tray filled with a mixture of cocopeat and compost. Remember, transplanting is necessary for cabbage; it encourages stronger roots in the permanent bed. When the seedlings have five to six leaves, you know they are ready for transplanting.
Prepare the bed with compost and a handful of lime and plant the seedlings in a row 35 to 65 cm apart (depending upon the variety). When transplanting, make sure the tap root goes in a straight planting hole. Earth up around the plant stem and firm the soil down. Cabbage requires a firm bed to grow firm, tight heads. When they are half grown, side dress with nitrogen-rich fertilizers and water the plants regularly. As the plant reaches maturity you might have to cut back on watering to avoid splitting heads.
Aphids and caterpillars are serious pests to cabbage. Inspect the plants regularly, particularly under the leaves where caterpillars lay their eggs for once they hatch they can defoliate a plant overnight. Neem oil and soap or chilli spray makes an easy insecticide.
To minimise pests, rotate crops; do not plant any vegetables of cabbage family in the same plot next season.
Grow companion plants like herbs, marigold and spring onions around the cabbage patch.
Besides being a powerhouse of Vitamin C, cabbage contains glutamine an amino acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. Like broccoli, it also contains a chemical that appears to block cancer cells. Fresh cabbage juice has been shown to heal peptic ulcer.