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Cabbage Patch Kid: How a plant inspired one girl to feed needy families

Many years ago, the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program — where third-grade students are given a cabbage plant to tend either at home or at school – inspired one young student in South Carolina to create an organization to feed those in need.

Katie's-Crops-1Katie Stagliano was given a plant in third grade. It grew to be almost 40 lbs! Her cabbage was too big for one family. So, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it fed more than 275 people. Amazed by how many people her cabbage fed, Katie started a vegetable garden specifically to donate to hungry people in her community. Her initiative continued to grow and expand, and  in 2012, at the age of 14, Katie became the youngest person to receive the Clinton Global Citizen Award.  She met Matt Damon at the awards ceremony!

Katie's-Crops-2Today, she’s the founder and chief executive gardener at Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit organization that continues to grow food to feed the needy. Offering grants to students and schools, her organization has expanded into 51 gardens run by kids in 21 states. Those gardens produce thousands of pounds of healthy produce for families. We are so inspired by what Katie is doing, and to think it all started with a small cabbage plant donation.

The Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program is open schools across America. This program aims to connect children to their food and nature. Sometimes the cabbages grow up to 50 lbs! Principals and teachers can register here.  Plants will be delivered at the optimal time for your growing zone. Once the cabbages are grown, classrooms can submit entries for a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. See previous winners here. Warning: They’re adorable.

Problem and Solution: Leggy Seedlings

I have been growing brassicas from seed for a number of years and have always had a problem with them going leggy in their starting pots. They always have plenty of light. My Aunt, who lives in England, has the same problem with hers. Is there is a way to prevent the legginess?

You’re on the right track to get your seedlings off to their best start. Good, stocky transplants are vital to a good harvest from your plants.

There are two reasons that young seedlings become leggy – light or temperature or a combination of the two. The light could be too weak or too far away from the plant and the soil temperature or the air temperature could be too warm. Since brassicas are cool season plants it is generally best to start and grow the seedlings on the cool side. A soil temperature of about 55 degrees with daytime air temperatures of about 65 degrees and nighttime air temperatures of around 55 degrees is just about right. They need bright light and a large south window will work, but be sure to rotate them one-quarter turn everyday so they will be stocky.

Even better, since broccoli and other brassicas are often started earlier in the year than most seedlings and light levels are low, use a fluorescent light fixture with two 40 watt tubes and position them so that the lights are 2-inches above the starting medium. Keep raising the light as the plants grow so that the lights are always 2-inches above the leaf tips. Provide 14 – 16 hours of light each day.

Keep your seedling moist but not soggy, provide for good humidity and some fertilization at half strength about every two weeks. When they have developed the first set of true leaves, thin them to one seedling per pot or transplant them to individual pots. Continue growing (and rotating) them until it’s time to start hardening them off, about two weeks before planting time. I’ll bet you can already taste that first, sweet harvest.

How to Grow Cabbage

Cabbage is a very hearty vegetable. It’s easy to grow and very cold tolerant. In addition to these merits, its leafy, robust figure is also attractive in the garden.

For best results plant small transplants about 15 to 18 inches apart. You can plant cabbage in the very early spring (about 4 weeks before the last frost) because they are frost tolerant or grow them in fall (plant 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost). They actually taste better after a frost.

Cabbages generally prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade.

Cabbage requires rich, well-drained soil with al pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for best growth and to discourage clubroot disease. Unless your soil is already rich, add nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure to the soil. Or, apply a timed-release vegetable food according to label directions. Work the fertilizer thoroughly into the soil before planting. Or fertilize regularly with a liquid formula beginning when you plant. Use according to label directions; plants love the liquid feeding.

Planting Cabbage

Cabbage takes 70 to 85 days to mature. Heads should be firm and dense. Cut the head off at the stem. Cabbage can split from too much water or over ripening. These should be sent to the compost bin.

Planting Cabbage