Corned beef and cabbage, sauerkraut, cole slaw, golumpki. Cabbage as been the backbone and sustenance of many a culture. We often think of cabbage as a vegetable for people who live in cold climates and need something that will keep into the winter. But cabbage and its many relatives, like kale, are widely adaptable and the National Gardening Association chose cabbage and kale as their Plants of the Year for 2007. This designation means gardeners will be seeing more varieties and more interest in spreading the word about growing cabbage and kale.
Both cabbage and kale are among the hardiest and most nutritious vegetables a home gardener can grow. Cabbage is high in vitamin C and iron, making it a wonderful choice for anyone prone to anemia. It also provides some beta-carotene, potassium, calcium and phyto-chemical like glucosinoltes. The fresher and darker the leaves, the more nutritious, so don’t over cook. And a ½ cup of cooked cabbage has between 15 - 30 calories. Eat up!
Kale makes it to the table even less than cabbage. Yet kale offers all the benefits of cabbage listed above, plus potassium and vitamin E. A cup of raw kale has 60 calories; cooked it is 48 calories. Even cooked, where it can lose one-third or more of its nutritive value, a cup of kale provides the minimum daily requirement of Vitamins A and C and 13 percent of the calcium requirement. It makes you wonder why kale is so often used only as a garnish.
Choosing a Cabbage Variety
Neither cabbage nor kale are quick maturing crops. It can take 70 - 85 days to get 1 full, mature head of cabbage. And cabbage heads take up more space than that tight center ball you see in the produce aisle. The side leaves or wrapper leaves, can spread out a good 3-4 feet and aren’t any good for eating. But growing your own cabbage is the only way to find some of the more flavorful varieties. Cabbages range in color from pale green through steel blue into reddish purple and along the way you’ll find flavors from delicate to overpowering.
But both kale and cabbage can be used as ornamental edibles in garden borders. In Anchorage, Alaska, you are likely to see Savoy cabbage growing in planting beds along the city streets next to petunias and geraniums. Deep purple ‘Red Winterbor’ kale pairs well with fall or spring pansies, curly parsley, and nasturtiums. Dark green leaved ‘Blue Ridge’ kale creates an exciting backdrop for flowerbeds.
A word of warning though, cabbage is very tempting to groundhogs. So don’t put your whole crop out where it can be eaten.
- Types of Cabbage
The Celts were so well connected with cabbage that the Latin name for the genus, Brassica, is from the Celtic word bresic, meaning “cabbage”. But the word cabbage is an Anglicized version of the French word caboche, which means “head”. (Suddenly Latin starts to make sense.)
Brassica oleracea refers to both the hard-heading cabbage ( B. oleracea Capitata) and the loose-headed varieties, like kale (B. oleracea Acephala ).
The hard-heading or ball shaped B. Oleracea Capitata are further classified as one of three leaf and color types:
- Green-leaved, which has smooth green leaves
- Red, with smooth reddish-purple leaves
- Savoy, with crinkled leaves
Within these three groups, they are further grouped according to:
- Head shape (round, conical or cone shaped, globe, or flat round)
- Harvest time (early, mid-season, or late)