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  • How to get cabbage seeds

    can anyone offer any advice on how to harvest cabbage seeds?

    when mine didnt yield any last year, i read that they have to grow 2 seasons before they produce seed. up north here (northern NY) the season is too short for that. it was suggested to pull the cabbage up with its root, and store it in a cold root cellar then replant the next warm season.

    i believe my saved cabbages went bad in the root cellar as they look and smell terribly. in fact i'm pretty sure they're 'dead'.

    how does everyone else save get and save cabbage seeds?

  • #2
    Read David Cavagnaro's article on page 48 of the 2008 Harvest Edition. It might not be too late for your cabbages.


    • #3
      wow .. thanks for the post larisa, but .. how do i read that page? sorry, i'm new here and dont even know what 'harvest edition' is.


      • #4
        The Harvest Edition is the 4th quarter publication sent to SSE members. I can ask David Cavagnaro for permission to reprint the text of the article here, at least the cabbage part of it.


        • #5
          I saw a picture once of cabbages being vernalized. I'm not sure if it was in an SSE publication or somewhere else, but it wasn't the 2008 Harvest Edition. It might have been in something from a seed company.

          The outer leaves had been removed from the cabbages until a small tightly wrapped head was left at the top of a tall leafless stalk. Each plant was potted individually in a clay pot just as if it were a houseplant. The leggy-looking plants in their pots were standing in long rows on wooden shelves in the dark.

          It all looked so easy, I might give it a try myself next year if I can keep them from crossing with other brassicas.


          • #6
            David has kindly given permission to reprint his article, so I've actually attached the applicable pages from the Harvest Edition as a .pdf and am pasting the cabbage-specific text here (the entire article would make a long post!) Thanks, David!

            Many members of the family Brassicaceae are annuals – mustards, Chinese cabbage, arugula, cress and others – but members of the species oleracea are biennials. Firm types of brassicas kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and the hard storage varieties of cabbage are the easiest to save. The leafy brassicas (kale, collards and Savoy cabbage) tend to mold and rot. Broccoli and cauliflower behave like annuals. I'll talk first about cabbage because the way I handle any other brassica is just a variation of the treatment I give cabbages.

            I like to get my storage cabbages dug up and in pots in the root cellar before the temperature approaches 20F. I leave some cabbages in the garden later than that for eating (throwing blankets or other protection over them at night), but vegetables for the root cellar must be in excellent condition. Cold-damaged cabbages won't last long before rotting.

            Cabbages don't have extensive roots. After removing outer leaves, leaving just the heads, I lift the plants with a shovel, shake off the dirt and place them in five-gallon nursery containers, cramming about five cabbages into each pot. I fill the containers with soil or sand and water well. The heads stay absolutely perfect this way for seven or eight months. Sometimes the humidity causes the outer leaves to rot. I just pull those leaves off and there's a perfect cabbage underneath.

            With cabbages you can have your cake and eat it, too. All you need to plant out in the spring is the root with some stem
            there are plenty of dormant buds along the stem that will sprout and go to seed. (Eat the seed cabbage heads last, though, because once the head is cut off, the stem is far more prone to rotting.) If you plant out a cabbage with the head still intact, cut an X in the top to make it easier for the flower stalk to emerge.

            For loose-headed cabbages (early varieties. Savoys and collards), make a special planting for the seed crop, timed so you'll have small plants with little heads when killing cold arrives. Dig the plants, strip all the leaves until only a head about the size of a tennis ball remains, and pot them up for storage like the others. A late summer planting of kale overwinters right in the garden under a layer of mulch if winter temperatures are not too severe.

            One cabbage will give you plenty of seed. Everything in this family needs cross pollination by insects, however, so you'll need at least two to get a crop and you must separate each cabbage variety from all other cabbages as well as any other brassicas. However, it takes far more than just two plants to maintain genetic viability in these biennial crops. Geneticists recommend a minimum of 20 plants of vegetables like onions, leeks, or brassicas. That may be more than most backyard gardeners have space for. If so, you can save seed for a generation or two (in other words, one or two times) before the genetic quality begins to slip, then buy in fresh seed.

            In the home garden, it's easier just to save seed from one brassica type each year and not worry about separation distance. The seed will last four years or more if kept dry at about 50F. I routinely get five or six years out of mine.
            Attached Files


            • #7

              Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. Information such as you have provided isn't that common unless you know where to get it.

              Unfortunately, I didn't put my cabbages/roots in soil, so they're just kinda 'hanging out' on the floor of my root cellar, but they may still be good and I'll certainly give them a shot in the spring. These veggies seem pretty hardy and they may do fine.


              • #8
                I am growing cabbage seeds this summer. I have grown Mammoth Red Rock cabbage from R.H. Shumway for several years and knew that they would keep in my root cellar all winter. That is the reason that I chose this variety to plant. Since it gets very cold here in Wyo. I dug up the 4 plants that I had roots and all. I broke off the large outer leaves and put the cabbages in a tub with a little extra soil and kept them moist over the winter.

                The beginning of May which is about 3 weeks before the end of our frost I planted the cabbages outside because they were starting to grow shoots. I cut an X in the head of cabbage as I had read in books to let the main stalk grow. Eventually the head parts of the cabbage rotted and I pulled them off. I have not seen a main seed stalk grow. From the places along the growing stalk that supported the cabbage head branches have sprouted and after the flowers have come many seed pods that are now starting to turn brown. With only 4 cabbage plants growing in a square area I believe that I will get seed, but I am not sure that I will preserve the genetic diversity that is required.

                I have been wondering if I grow seed for a couple of years and mix them, or grow some of my seed mixed with some commercial seeds if I can get away with only growing a few cabbages for their seed. Now I want to see if I can grow broccoli for seed. Our summer is too short and I will have to try to over winter some of the stalks.


                • #9
                  Last season ('08) I cut the heads off my cabbage plants and simply left the root in the soil. This season ('09) I got new sprouts off of last year's roots. I let these grow and they all went to seed. I have lots and lots of seeds!

                  I live in zone 4 Utah. The rootstocks left in the soil were covered by about 3 feet of snow, which probably insulated them from a hard freezing of the rootzone.

                  In other words, I did nothing out of the ordinary at all, and I got lots of seeds the second year without intervening with Mother Nature.


                  • #10
                    A follow-up question along this thread...

                    When do cabbage and brussel sprouts flower, the first year or the second?

                    It would seem, that would be the point in time that isolation would be required.

                    I am going to grow brussels and cabbage this year and plan to isolate with cages or row cover when the time comes. But it does not seem that isolation is required the entire growth period for these plants.

                    Is row cover sufficient? Are hoops required or recommended?

                    Kelly - I really like the idea of eating my cabbage and having them go to seed too; thanks for that input. Will that work for the brussels too? That is, will the plant go to seed if the sprouts are harvested?