Now is the time to sow some cabbage seeds

The sunny, warm days and cool nights associated with a typical Missouri fall provide ideal growing conditions for cool-season vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein. Now is a good time to sow Chinese cabbage seeds to provide plants ready to establish in the garden later in August.

The word “cabbage” comes from the Old French word caboche which, literally interpreted, means “head.”

As a food source, Chinese cabbage is one of our oldest vegetables. Native to eastern Asia, archeological records indicate it has been cultivated for over 6,000 years. The common name “Chinese cabbage” refers to several sub-species of Brassica campestris, a member of the mustard plant family (Brassicaceae) to which cabbage, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and turnip belong.

Chinese cabbage tolerates cold temperatures but not heat. When it develops in hot weather, it forms a flower stalk (bolts) rather than a head. Chinese cabbage seeds sown now make early growth during hot weather but will not become large enough to flower. When it cools and plants become larger, they form heads instead of flowers.

Sow Chinese cabbage seeds in flats or pots in a soilless germination medium. Place containers in a protected location with morning sun and afternoon shade. Fertilize and water young plants as needed.

Or, you may wait until late August and sow seeds directly in the garden. However, soil may crust from overhead irrigation or pelting rains. This usually leads to poor germination. If possible, lightly water seeds sown directly in the garden daily. This keeps the soil moist and cool and improves germination.

Most Chinese cabbage varieties need about three to four weeks to become large enough to transplant and 65 to 70 days more before harvest. Mature heads can endure light frosts, but not severe freezes.

Soil considerations for Chinese cabbage are much the same as for regular cabbage, Trinklein said. Choose soil with good structure, fertility and water-holding capacity. Chinese cabbage prefers soil with a pH in the 6.0 to 6.2 range.

Timing of nitrogen application is important. If you make a pre-plant application of fertilizer, side dress with nitrogen at 10-day intervals after transplanting or thinning. However, excessive nitrogen leads to lush vegetative growth prone to disease attack.

Chinese cabbage’s improvement over the years has resulted in new varieties. An excellent variety among the taller-headed (Michihli) types is ‘Jade Pagoda’, said Trinklein. It is relatively heat tolerant and produces firm, cylindrical heads 16 inches long and about 6 inches in width. “Green Rocket” is another good variety with long heads, crisp leaves and good storage life.

“Blues” and “China Gold” are two relatively new, barrel-shaped Napa types of Chinese cabbage. Both mature early which makes them good choices for fall planting. Additionally, both are slow to bolt, form firm heads and have good external and internal color and quality.

Another Asian vegetable that can be started now is Pak Choi or “Chinese celery cabbage.” A member of the mustard family, this vegetable’s white stems (petioles) resemble celery. Most Pak Choi varieties require about 50 days to mature. Because it grows rapidly, start Pak Choi later in the fall than Chinese cabbage. “Asian Delight” and “Bopak” are new varieties that won the coveted All-American Selection award. Both form 5- to 7-inch heads with tender white stems and dark green, textured leaves.

Insect control on young Chinese cabbage or Pak Choi plants is important in late summer. Cabbage worms can quickly devour the young, tender plants. Leaf damage at this early stage also can slow growth. If damaged excessively, young plants may not have time to recover and form heads before cold weather arrives.

Chinese cabbage is ready to harvest when heads are firm and compact. Store up to six weeks in a plastic bag in the crisper compartment of a refrigerator.