One of the best things about gardening is the perpetual need to look forward, and that comes with a generous sense of optimism: next year will indeed be better in the garden and all those mistakes will fade into distant memory! When it comes to looking forward, spring vegetables need to be in the forefront of our minds at this time of year.
One of the easiest and most rewarding early vegetables are spring cabbages, which often form dense pointed heads, and can be harvested as young leaves or left to mature to be picked from mid-spring until the early summer. When I say that cabbages are easy to grow, this is provided that we can protect them from the whole host of animals that adore eating them. The most effective way to protect your cabbages is through a physical barrier, which comes in the form of butterfly netting.
One of the best varieties of spring cabbage that I grow is Greyhound. If you are unable to source the seed for Greyhound, look out for the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) or the small gold cup symbol on a packet of seed, which will give you a good indication that that variety has been a strong performer when it has been trialled against others.
Cabbages need a sunny and fertile soil, so the addition of some well-rotted manure or garden compost will help you tremendously in achieving a buoyant brassica. I would suggest a wheelbarrow of compost for every four square metres, dug into the top soil in preparation for planting. Young cabbage plants are available in most garden centres, but there’s still time to sow seeds. Sow your cabbage seeds in a modular tray filled with peat-free compost. Two seeds per cell is a good tip to ensure a healthy seedling in each cell, as you can reduce the two seedlings to one with a pair of scissors if you’re lucky enough to get both to germinate. Keep the compost moist, and place the seed tray in a cool greenhouse or on a bright windowsill.
Plant your cabbages out from their modules when they are large enough to handle and have been acclimatised to the outdoors, at about 40cm apart. Put some grapefruit peel down to catch any slugs and snails in the area, and ideally a felt cabbage collar around the base of the stem to deter cabbage root fly.
Regular watering through dry periods for the first few weeks (if we’re lucky enough to have some of those this autumn) would be helpful, and top-dressing at the end of February with some fish blood and bone will help to encourage strong growth.