Cabbage and Clover Husbandry
by Sandy Swegel
St Patrick’s Day is this week…a traditional day for planting peas. But you know that….so get ready to plant your peas. This year I’m thinking about Ireland and two plants usually associated with Ireland: cabbage and clover (not necessarily the four-leaf variety.) A little internet browsing led to an interesting connection to these two plants. One…they both like to grow in cool humidity like Spring and Fall. Cabbage is a cool season crop. Two… old country wisdom and modern science show that cabbage and clover are excellent companion crops.
Books in England dating back to the 1700s recommend cabbage “Husbandry” the old word for farming. Cabbage was highly regarded because it lasted well as a stored food for winter and because cows and sheep that ate cabbage in the winter made sweeter milk than those that ate turnips. Standard practice in England in the olden days was to plant a clover cover crop and follow that with cabbage or potatoes. Turns out that cabbage that grows in clover or where clover had been grown and tilled under are larger and have significantly fewer pests included the cabbage looper. Cabbage moths are still the bane of cabbage growers. Modern no-till farmers have adopted this centuries-old wisdom to plant cabbage right into a field of clover.
Besides being good for cows and sheep, cabbage is healthy for us and a staple in many cuisines. I am particularly fond of the red cabbages because they are pretty! Here are a few tips to grow cabbage:
It’s a cool season crop.
That means you have to get it in early. Or plant it in mid-summer for fall harvest.
They do well from transplants.
Start seeds indoors or in a cold frame 8 weeks before last Spring frost. Then transplant it about 2-4 weeks before last Spring frost. Cabbage is a “heavy feeder” so you need good soil or extra fertilization and regular irrigation.
Watch out for pests.
Cutworms and cabbage loopers love cabbage too…but they are pretty easy to pick off if you stay after them. Little paper collars protect transplants from the cutworms. If you don’t like to pick off the worms, it is good organic control.
Cabbage makes great microgreens.
Cabbage germinates in about two days in your warm kitchen. Another superfood from the brassica family.
For more on the science of winter-sowing clover and cabbage and other brassicas