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Diggin' It

How to grow and prepare cabbage

A gardener and a chef team up with advice on growing cabbage and cooking it in a mélange of vegetables to enhance its taste.

By Anne K. Moore and Linda Weiss / September 21, 2011

Many years ago, a Japanese exchange student shared this recipe for Cabbage With Bell Pepper, Celery, and Onion with an American family. It's still a favorite.

Courtesy of Linda Weiss


Cabbage, because it grows best in cool weather, is one of those vegetables that will withstand frosts, says Anne, the gardener. You can put cabbage plants out in the garden in late summer or early fall. Depending on the variety, these plants should have cabbage heads to harvest in about two months.

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To determine the exact time to plant, count backwards from your expected first frost, and then add a couple of weeks if you are not in a heavy freeze zone. This will tell you when you should plant cabbage in the garden.

The plants should be spaced about 15 inches apart. They should go in the ground no deeper than they are growing in their seedling pot.

Avoiding insects

In the spring, wrap the stem of each plant with a strip of newspaper extending it above and below ground. This will help to keep cutworms from finding and boring into the stems. These are not much of a problem on fall grown cabbage.

The best way to combat cabbageworms is to cover your plants with a floating row cover as soon as you have planted. This keeps the cabbage moth from laying her eggs on your plants. No eggs, no caterpillars/worms.

Make sure you fertilize with a good dose of nitrogen. Green vegetables need nitrogen to produce their leaves. If the fall rains are sparse, add water to keep the soil moist. Covering the ground with mulch will also keep the roots cool and moisture in the soil.

Harvest when the heads are firm when you squeeze them. (If they feel airy, they are not ready.) Cut them off at the soil level and try your fresh cabbage with chef Linda’s easy recipe, which follows.

Bibba’s steamed cabbage by way of Japan

Bibba and I (Linda) were in the kitchen, and she motioned for me to come over toward the stove as she said, “Come here and let me show you what that girl from Japan taught me to cook," referring to the foreign exchange student visiting our house.

So I peeked into the pot as Bibba raised the lid, and there was a steamed cabbage with onion wedges, bell pepper wedges, and sticks of celery. At the bottom of the pot, I could see a small amount of water with the butter pooled on top of it.

While I was looking, I was thinking, "Hmmm, this is not our usual Southern cabbage," but it looked so good. So I said, "Bibba, let’s taste it," and that we did.

It was delicious. Tender yet crisp wedges of green cabbage, onions, peppers, and celery steamed with butter made a sweet mélange of vegetables with each of the other vegetables marrying into the cabbage.

I guess they don’t call it a mélange of vegetables in Japan. But that exchange student sure did teach Bibba the cook how to make really good steamed cabbage. Bibba taught me how to make the cabbage in 1964, and that cabbage recipe is still one that I make today.

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