The lowly cabbage is regarded as a powerful antioxidant and nutritious staple worldwide. It’s one of the easiest veggies to grow in cool weather climates since it tolerates below-freezing temperatures in late growth.
But how do you know when a cabbage will be ready to harvest? Regardless of where you grow your cabbages, the golden rule is to wait until the heads of cabbage are firm. The leaves should also be tightly packed around the head.
These gardening tips will tell you more.
How Do You Know When Your Cabbage is Ready to Harvest?
The process of harvesting cabbage is just as easy as cabbage planting.
The obvious way you will know at least more or less when your cabbage will be ready to harvest is by checking the instructions on the seed packet.
Harvesting time is usually about 70 days from when you planted your cabbage seeds, depending on the variety. But it could be anything from 60 to 80 days.
Some cabbage varieties take as long as 180 days to mature when you start seeds in the ground. If you opt to plant seedlings, it might take up to 105 days to mature.
This is why it’s wise to be guided by the seed packet!
That said, it’s also pretty easy to gauge when cabbage is ready for harvest by looking at the cabbage and feeling the cabbage head. All but the outside leaves should be closed tightly around the cabbage head, which should be firm and compact.
To judge readiness by feel, many veggie gardeners report that it feels very firm when squeezed the heads of cabbage.
They might look full, but when you squeeze them they might feel a bit soft. If this is the case, then you should leave them for a few more days before you attempt to harvest them.
How Big Should Your Cabbage Head Be?
As the University of Minnesota Extension points out, the head we recognize as cabbage is basically a short, thick core on the stem.
Of course, the heads of different cabbage varieties vary greatly. Some are mature when they are the size of a softball or tennis ball. Others get as big as a soccer ball.
The seed packet will guide how big the head of your type of cabbage should be. Most green-cabbage varieties produce 1-3 lb (0.4-1.3 kg) heads, but you can harvest them when they have reached an acceptable size for your needs.
What Happens if You Don’t Harvest Cabbage?
If you leave cabbages too long, the stems and top leaves start to crack, and they sometimes go to seed. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t salvage the leaves and partly developed head. But do it quickly.
Heavy rain before harvest can also cause the heads to split.
If the leaves or heads start to split, harvest the cabbage immediately. Ultimately, if you don’t harvest cabbage it will eventually rot. Then all you can do is chuck it on your compost pile.
Sometimes, people leave their cabbages and don’t harvest because they feel the heads of cabbage are too small to harvest. This is why it’s important to gauge the probably mature size of the cabbages you plant.
Sometimes people choose not to harvest their cabbages because they have bolted and gone to seed. This sometimes happens when you leave the plant too long and ignore the fact that they are ready for harvest.
While the cabbage won’t be at its best, generally, the leaves will still be good to eat. You can also harvest the seeds for the next season.
How to Harvest Cabbage?
First of all, the best time to harvest all cabbage varieties is in the early morning. If it gets too hot, the leaves will begin to wilt.
Once you have ascertained that your cabbage is ready to harvest, you can simply rip it out of the ground. It’s quite easy if the soil is relatively sandy. Otherwise, you can dig it up, roots and all.
But, if you want to let your crop continue to produce, it’s best to use a knife to cut the stem just below the firm, compact head. Leave two or three of the big, outer leaves just above the soil surface. These leaves will protect the new growth.
While a sharp knife works well for some people, the base of cabbages is really thick and can be tough to saw through. Alternatively, you can also use long-handled pruning loppers to cut the cabbage head from the stem.
Prepare for a Second Crop
Sometimes people leave the remaining stalk in the ground of their vegetable garden. It may produce a few small heads of lettuce with loose leaves that you can use for stir-fries or salad.
If the harvested plant produces lots of babies, cut the smallest ones off and let two or three continue to grow. None will be nearly as big as the original cabbage head, but that won’t make them any less edible.
Once your harvest is over, you will need to remove all stems with roots from the soil. If you leave the plant in the ground this can lead to disease that might affect other plants in your vegetable garden.
You can throw all the healthy plants onto your compost pile. If there is any sign of disease or maggots, destroy the plants.
What to Do if You Have Too Many Cabbages
When you grow cabbage in your home vegetable garden, you can stretch the harvest into winter. It is a cool-weather vegetable and will tolerate very low, below-freezing temperatures late in the development of the plant. But, if temperatures drop below 25°F (-3.8°C) at night, you will need to protect the heads of cabbage with some sort of a cover.
If you find there are likely to be too many cabbages ready for harvest at the same time, Michigan State University’s (MSU) Extension suggests that you can slow the inevitable process by slicing the roots or twisting the cabbage heads. This stops too much water from moving towards the head and prevents the head from splitting.
Split the roots by shearing with a spade on one side only. Another way to do this is to pull the cabbage plant out of the soil just enough to break a few of the side roots.
If you opt to twist the head, only give it a quarter turn. You don’t want to break the stem.
Should You Wash Cabbage after Harvesting?
If you’re going to eat cabbage as soon as you’ve harvested it, then you must wash it before you slice or cook it. If you’re going to store it in the fridge or root cellar for a while, wipe it clean and then wash it when you are ready to use it.
Can You Eat Cabbage Immediately after Harvesting?
Generally, you will get the best flavor from newly harvested cabbages.
There are two general groups of cabbage, loose-heading and hard-heading, and lots of different varieties. According to MSU Extension, some varieties are better suited for fresh consumption while others are more suitable for long-term storage.
If you are going to store some or all of your cabbages, ideal conditions are 32-40°F (0-4.4°C) at 95% relative humidity. They can usually be stored for as long as 6 months, ideally in a proper root cellar.
A root cellar for cabbage should have slightly moist conditions and the temperature should be close to freezing.
Of course, if you have a glut of cabbages, a good way of preserving it is to make fermented sauerkraut.
You can also freeze it. Blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then plunge into iced water before freezing. It will last in the freezer for 9-14 months.
It will only last a few weeks in the fridge.
It takes cabbage varieties different timeframes to mature. For this reason, it is a good idea to note how long the seed company says it will take to mature. This information will be on your seed packet.
But this is not enough. If you have planted cabbage in your home vegetable garden, there are additional steps that you can take to make sure that your crop is ready to harvest.
There are also ways to know that you’ve left your cabbages too long, and missed the ideal harvesting time.
These 2023 gardening tips advise that you must be sure that the heads are firm and compact when you harvest your cabbage crop. You can’t rely on what they look like though, because the inside leaves might be quite loose.
Instead, when you grow cabbage, you will need to have squeezed the heads to test for firmness before you pick them.
If your cabbages bolt and go to seed, you’ve missed the ideal time to harvest them. But it’s also not a good idea to leave them in the ground.
Follow our useful tips in this gardening guide to make sure you harvest your cabbage crop at the right time.