Probably one of the most well known and reliable spring cabbages, Cabbage Durham Early produces dark green, medium-sized conical heads with good texture and tasty flavour.
As the name suggests you can start picking this versatile spring vegetable particularly early in the season, providing a welcome harvest when there's little else around. They can also be sown or planted closely for delicious tender 'spring greens' and ready to harvest from February.
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 July to September
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: April to May
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.
The Saturday magazine, Volume 24, (1844), p47
"Early York. This cabbage was introduced more than a hundred years ago, by a private soldier named Telford, who brought it with him from Flanders. On his return to this country he settled as a seedsman in Yorkshire, where the cabbage became celebrated, and received the name of the county in which it was first grown. It is of small growth, so that a great many can be planted in a moderate compass. It is still esteemed on account of its delicate flavour."
After learning the plantsman's trade at a Norwich nursery, James Backhouse had wanted to set up a nursery in his home town of Darlington. As his sister records, he 'felt somewhat disappointed when he found that the old and well-established Nursery business, of John and George Telford, of York, was to be disposed of.' Clearly the Telfords had quite a reputation, and it seems that James Backhouse - a deeply religious man - saw this excellent opportunity as God-given, not to be turned down.
The Floriculture Magazine of 1839 recorded the change of ownership
Although we haven't yet sourced the reason why this York Cabbage is called "Durham Early", we can imagine that James Backhouse, a Darlington man would have named his cabbages after his home towns.
More research will undoubtedly follow!
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 tan 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.
- Spring Cabbages (sow in late summer / early autumn)
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 280 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 280 seeds per gram Common Name Early Spring. York or Sweetheart Cabbage
Heritage (English circa 1850)
Other Common Names Spring Greens, Collard Greens Family Brassicaceae Genus Brassica Species olearacea Cultivar Durham Early Synonym Brassica olearacea Capitata Group Height 40cm (16in) Spread 25 to 30cm (10 to 18in) Position Full sun Soil Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Chalky/alkaline, Dry Time to Sow July to August Time to Harvest April to May