Cabbage is a hardy crop that has long been the poster vegetable of austerity. Even now, when things are changing, and every little sprout and leaf seemingly has its 15 minutes in the spotlight, the possibility that cabbage is being recognised for its deliciousness, instead of its health benefits or affordability, is unexpected, to say the least.
But the Brassica of the moment isn’t the same kind we’re used to seeing in the patch. It’s Caraflex cabbage, a sweeter variety with lettuce-like crunch that has recently found favour among chefs and farmers alike. This immediately recognisable coneheaded cabbage tends to be harvested at just a pound or so, though these narrow romaine-heart-size heads can easily grow much larger.
With water-rich, white-green leaves loosely spiralling to a point, Caraflex is more perishable and delicate than the common green, red, and Savoy options, but it’s also much less pungent. And it’s being name-checked more and more on restaurant menus.
Caraflex is more delicate, more tender, and less bitter than regular cabbage, and while Caraflex is easily swapped with regular green cabbage in most recipes, the difference it makes is one of finesse. Caraflex is now the go-to option for making sauerkraut, and in the same way that many people swear by San Marzano tomatoes for pasta sauce, or Satsumas for their marmalade, it’s a hot-ticket item to chase down when you can.
Cabbage ‘Caraflex F1’ is a unique, pointed-head cabbage that is exceptionally sweet and tender. Described as ‘An improved Hispi type with slightly larger pointed heads that stands a little longer,’ it is sometimes marketed as a ‘Sweetheart Lettage’ because it is a nice substitute for lettuce in many salads.
Very fast growing and versatile for sowing and harvesting. If crowded to an 20cm (8in) row spacing, Caraflex will make a smaller slender head that resembles romaine lettuce. It increases in girth with wider spacing.
Ready to harvest June to September, it matures approx 68 days from transplant and stores up to 10 weeks. Can also be grown early in a tunnel.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
Cabbage 'Caraflex F1' has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Prepare the site:
All brassica crops grow best in partial-shade, in firm, fertile, free-draining soil. Start digging over your soil as soon as you can brave the elements. Remove any stones you find and work in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Tread on the soil to remove air pockets and to make the surface firm. Brassicas will fail if the soil is too acidic; add lime to the soil if necessary, aiming for a pH of 6.5-7.5.
Sowing: Sow successionally from April to May
Nearly all brassicas should be planted in a seedbed or in modules under glass and then transferred. Seeds should be sown thinly, as this reduces the amount of future thinning necessary and potential risk from pests.
Sow seeds 12mm (½in) deep and space 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) between rows. Once the seeds have germinated, thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) between each plant. After germination, seedlings will often be ‘leggy’, so plant them as deep as possible to really anchor them into the soil.
Cabbage seedlings are ready for transplanting when they are between 6 and 8cm high (2½ to 3in). Water the day before moving, and keep well-watered until established. Plant firmly, close together for small heads and wider apart for larger cabbages, around 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) apart.
To grow spring greens, plant out to 15cm (6in) apart and take alternative plants in March as spring greens leaving the others to fully mature fully.
Clear away any yellow leaves. Feed the plants as they near maturity with a foliar feed.
Water regularly, especially in dry periods. Hoe between plants as required.
Harvest: 100 to 120 days to maturity.
Earliest heads can be cut, leaving the stump in the ground to produce a second crop of small leafy heads.
Brassicas are affected by a wide range of pests and diseases, especially the fungal disease, club root. The roots become stubby and swollen and can develop wet rot, while leaves become yellow and wilt, causing severe stunting of growth. Remove any infected plants from the ground and destroy. Make sure the soil is adequately limed and well drained. Rotate your crops annually to avoid disease. Don't grow brassicas on the same plot more often than one year in three, as moving the crop helps avoid the build up of soil pests and diseases
Mint: Effective against Cabbage White Butterflies, Aphids and Flea Beetles
Thyme: To ward off that nasty Cabbage Worm!
Also useful: Sage, Oregano, Borage, chamomile and Nasturtium.
In the wild, the Brassica oleracea plant is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, and is somewhat similar in appearance to a leafy canola plant.
Without detailed knowledge of plant breeding or genetics, simple selection by the people growing the plant over seven thousand years that had the features that they most desired, led to the development of six dramatically different vegetables. Although they appear very different, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts are all the same species, Brassica oleracea.
As time passed, some people began to express a preference for those plants with a tight cluster of tender young leaves in the centre of the plant at the top of the stem. Because of this preference for plants in which there were a large number of tender leaves closely packed into the terminal bud at the top of the stem, these plants were selected and propagated more frequently.
A continued favouritism of these plants for hundreds of successive generations resulted in the gradual formation of a more and more dense cluster of leaves at the top of the plant. Eventually, the cluster of leaves became so large, it tended to dominate the whole plant, and the cabbage "head" we know today was born. This progression is thought to have been complete in the 1st century A.D.
Cabbage is known botanically by the name Brassica oleracea variety capitata, which translates to 'cabbage of the vegetable garden with a head.' (Kale plants are named Brassica oleracea variety acephala which translates to mean 'cabbage of the vegetable garden without a head.')
The Latin name Brassica derives from the Celtic ‘bresic’. The species oleracea refers to a vegetable garden herb that is used in cooking.
Often called a York Cabbage, it is a name for a type of cabbage, not a variety. It has pointed heads rather than rounded ones.
Types of Cabbage:
The cabbage comes in three waves, spring, summer and winter with varieties being described by their time of harvesting, not their sowing times. Just to add to the fun, summer cabbages last into and can also be cut in the autumn!
- Spring Cabbages (sow in late summer / early autumn)
Spring cabbages are usually sown in July and August being planted out in September and October to overwinter and be harvested from late February through to the beginning of June. In windy areas, earth up around the stem and compress the soil with your foot to ensure the plants are stable and don't suffer root rock.
They tend to be conical in shape and quite loose leaved, often referred to as spring greens or collards.
- Summer Cabbages (sow in spring)
Usually these are ball headed (drumhead) sown from mid-February under glass to mid-May being planted out in May and June to provide a harvest from late June to November although more usually August and September are the prime harvesting months.
Most tend to be round in shape although the Greyhound and Hispi varieties are conical like spring cabbages. For the earliest crop, sow early.
- Winter Cabbages (sow in spring/early summer)
The winter cabbages are generally sown in late April through May, being planted out in July to provide a harvest from November right through to March. They're ball or drum-headed and obviously hardy.
Some varieties will store for months, cut the head and remove outer loose leaves (bet you find a slug!) then store in a cool dark place, preferably on slatted shelves to allow airflow. White varieties are ideal for coleslaw and all will make sauerkraut.
- Savoy Cabbage
The savoy type of cabbage is basically a ball head but the leaves are crinkled rather than smooth. Sowing and planting are just like winter cabbages except the cutting season tends to be a little wider.
Some faster maturing varieties are ready as early as September and some will hold in the ground until the beginning of April.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 30 Seeds Seed Form Natural Common Name York or Sweetheart Cabbage Other Common Names Pointed, coleslaw or sauerkraut cabbage Family Brassicaceae Genus Brassica Species olearacea var capitata Cultivar Caraflex F1 Synonym Brassica olearacea Capitata Group Height 30cm (12in) Spread 40cm (16in) Position Full sun Soil Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Chalky/alkaline, Dry Time to Sow April to May (or September)