These leafy vegetables need to be in the ground for winter to produce heads in time for spring
It seems an odd moment in the midst of a heatwave to consider crops for next year. Vegetable gardeners will be busy minding their crops, as well as enjoying harvesting and eating fresh produce from the garden. However, as with all things gardening, you need to be looking ahead as well.
If you’d like to grow spring cabbage, now is the time to be sowing seeds. This is in order to have seedlings ready for planting out this autumn — spring cabbages need to be in the ground for winter to produce heads for spring. Cabbages are so nutritious — stuffed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — and spring cabbages are one of the first veg you can crop in spring.
Before you get sowing, there are a few things to consider. Cabbages are in the brassica family — along with kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower — so if you’re already growing plants in this family, it’s best to rotate and use a new bed or a new part of the garden, as growing the same vegetable family in the same soil allows diseases such as club root to build up.
Cabbages are a green leafy vegetable and are famously greedy plants and they need plenty of nitrogen, so prepare the soil well before you put them in their final planting positions in autumn. Lots of compost or well-rotted manure or chicken pellets are all suitable, as well as liquid seaweed feeds while they are growing.
Sow seeds from July and August. ‘Pixie’ is a good variety for smaller gardens and has a sweet flavour. ‘Durham’ is another tried-and-tested variety to look out for. These are best sown in modules — one seed per module — and transplanted outdoors in September, but you can also direct sow into the ground now.
If using seed modules, place two seeds per module, removing the weaker seedling if both germinate. The seedlings will be ready for planting out around four weeks later. You may have heard the expression ‘puddling’ in your cabbages — this means filling the planting hole with water a couple of times so it is well drenched before planting your seedlings.
It’s also a good idea to put a cardboard collar around the neck of the seedling to help protect the young leaf growth from slugs and snails. Position in a sunny site and firm the soil in by tramping over it gently.
Cabbage root fly can be a problem as well: they lay their eggs around the stems of the seedlings. The cardboard collar will help, but the best way is to cover your crop with a fine protective mesh to keep the flies out. Regular inspections on the underside of the leaves will help you spot the yellow eggs of cabbage white caterpillars — remove these.
As winter approaches, firm the young cabbages into the soil to prevent wind rock on windy days. In early spring, give them a boost with a liquid feed, and by late spring, they will be ready to harvest. Cut through the stem just above ground level with a sharp knife.
If you cut a deep cross in the stump of cabbages after harvesting, they can go on to produce a second flush of leaves. When finished, dig out the root and dispose, and use this bed for a different group of vegetables, such as potatoes or produce from the bean family.
Plant Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’
I love the tall, elegant spires of this plant swaying in the breeze like white wands. Although the flowers are unscented, it will attract bees and butterflies and is a perfect companion for prairie-style planting, or in a cottage garden.
Q: I have a lupin that has flowered and has seeds now. Can those seeds be planted now or saved until next year to sow? — Dave
You can do both: sow now and keep some for a spring sowing. I’d probably let them ripen a bit more before harvesting. Allow the seed pods to turn brown and then remove them from the plant and open up the pod. Store in a cool, dry, dark place — an envelope is ideal — and label them, so you won’t get mixed up when it comes to sowing different seeds next spring. They will also self-seed, so you can let nature do the job for you if you like. Bear in mind that the seeds will be variable, so you might not get an exact copy/colour of your current lupin. Soak seeds overnight to increase the germination rate. If you want a clone, basal cuttings in March and April are the way to go. You select some strong spring shoots and cut them off right near the base of plant and pop them in some compost.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden