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How to Harvest and Store Cabbage

Cabbage harvestHarvest cabbage at any size after the head becomes firm and before it splits. Leave two to four wrapper leaves around the head to keep it from drying.

  • Heading cabbage can be harvested when the head is about the size of a softball—5 inches (12 cm) or more across, squeeze it to test firmness.
  • Elongated Chinese or Napa cabbage is ready for harvest when the head is 9 to 12 inches (22-30 cm) tall.
  • Leafy cabbages—that do not form tight heads—can be harvested leaf-by-leaf about a month after planting use the cut-and-come-again method.

When to Harvest Cabbage

  • There are dozens of varieties of cabbage. It is important to read up on the variety you are growing to know what to expect. Some varieties can stay in the gardens for weeks after they are firm and solid, others must be harvested right away.
  • Cabbages prefer cooler growing temperatures, between 55°-75°F/13°-24°C.
  • Early or spring cabbages mature in 50 to 60 days. Midseason varieties planted in early spring take 75 to 85 days to reach full size. Late-season or storage varieties need 85 to 200 days to reach harvest from transplanting.
  • In cold winter regions, cabbage is a spring and fall crop. In warm-winter regions, cabbage is a winter crop.
  • Cabbage heads can withstand temperatures down to 20°F (-6°C) but if a serious freeze is predicted, you should either pull the crop from the garden or protect it under a layer of straw.
  • Cabbage for fall harvest will form just one head on each plant. Set aside the larger and firmer heads for long winter storage. Use the others within a month or so.
  • Cabbage for spring or summer harvest can produce two, three, or four heads before winter. Harvest winter or spring-planted cabbage when the heads are small—not larger than a softball. When you cut the first head, cut as close to the head as you can leave as much of the stem as possible, also leave four to five of the plant’s lower leaves. From each leaf left on the stem, a smaller, loosehead (about the size of a baseball) will grow. These mini-cabbages make tasty salads and will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

How to Harvest Cabbage

  • Headed cabbage can be cut from the base of the plant with a sharp knife when it feels solid and firm. If the head feels loose and flimsy, let it mature longer. If you cut the head and leave some of the stalk behind, smaller heads will form for a second harvest.
  • You also can harvest cabbage by pulling up the plant roots and all.
  • If a cabbage head starts to crack before you are ready to harvest, give the head a 180° twist at ground level; the twist will break off some the roots and slow the head’s growth. To slow the growth even further, give the plant another 90° twist. This will slow maturation and delay harvest of heads you do not need immediately.
  • At the end of the season, you can get a jump on next season by pulling up cabbage stalks and roots left behind after harvest and overwinter them in a trench dug in the garden and covered with straw or in a container kept in a chilly garage over the winter. In spring, re-plant the roots and stalks as soon as the soil is workable; these plants will produce early spring greens.

More tips at How to Grow Cabbage.

Cabbage stored in boxHow to Store Cabbage

  • Store cabbage in a cold, moist place–32°-40°F (0°-4°C) and 95 percent relative humidity. Cold and moist storage is a challenge to create. Refrigerators provide the cold, but they also dry the air. An alternative to refrigerator storage is a root cellar or garden storage mound or pit.
  • To store cabbage in the refrigerator, remove loose leaves and clip the cabbage so a short stem remains, then wrap the head in a damp paper towel, and place it in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator. You can purchase perforated plastic bags or make your own by punching 20 holes in a plastic bag; use a hole punch or sharp object.
  • Cabbage stored in the refrigerator will keep for three to four weeks. Cabbages release a pungent odor as they breathe, so it is not uncommon to notice a strong cabbage odor in the refrigerator over time.
  • To store cabbage in a root cellar, store plant roots, head, and all: place heads in rows on shelves several inches apart or hang the cabbages heads down by a string from the ceiling or store them on the floor wrapped in several layers of newspaper.
  • You can also store cabbage in a garden pit or mound. To create a cabbage storage pit in the garden, dig a hole 2 or 2½ feet (61-76 cm) deep and line it with a heavy layer of straw for insulation. Store cabbages roots up, heads down then cover them with more straw and a burlap sack or tarp at the top so you can get in the pit once the snow covers it and the soil is frozen. During the winter when you need a cabbage head, open the storage and take a head then repack with straw and cover.
  • Do not wash cabbage or remove outer leaves before storing them. Solid heads picked with outside wrapping leaves store the best. Handle heads with care to prevent bruising.
  • Cabbage will keep in long-term cold, moist storage for 3 to 4 months.
  • Check stored cabbages often and remove any heads that start to yellow or develop a rotting smell.

More tips: Planting Cabbage.

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13 Comments

  1. By wrapper leaves you mean?? Is it the leaves that bend away from the solid core of the cabbage? I usually take those off like how you find them in the store.

    • Wrapper leaves are the large cabbage leaves that sometimes fall away from the cabbage head; sometimes these are discarded but not always. They can be used to protect the rest of the cabbage head.

  2. I planted red cabbage in late November last year (seedlings purchased from local nursery). I live in Northern California. The plants look good (covered in row covers to protect form bugs) but no heads have formed yet (early March). How much longer until heads will form?

    • Cabbage varieties that form heads typically do so about 70 to 80 days after planting. Several factors come into play for head formation: first is temperature, even temperatures between 55 to 65F (13-18C) are necessary–too cold or too hot will delay head formation; too much nitrogen in the soil can cause cabbage not to form a head; planting cabbage when temperatures are greater than 80F (27C) can cause cabbage not to head; soil too wet can cause roots to rot and heads will not form.

  3. We’re in business of cold storage doing storage of potatoes and cabbage. Can we store both within same chamber and under same conditions

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