Cabbage Fail

Cabbage- the (food) stuff of settlers and pioneers, that bittersweet peasant food.  Fried, fermented and raw, I love it.  When I discovered how to make sauerkraut the real way, it opened up a new door in food preservation for me.

So of course, the next logical step would be, why not grow it?  Ha.  Easier said than done, that is, if you want organic cabbage.   I’ve attempted growing cabbage a few times now- the first time not realizing that it required special attention and effort.  That attempt at cabbage growing failed miserably-  the plants looked more like a type of swiss cheese than cabbage.  Admittedly, as a gardener, I don’t do well with plants that require special attention.

So this spring, I made the commitment to cabbage.  I got garden netting and kept close watch on the little gals.  I followed the laws of companion planting and planted onions and marigolds nearby.  The carrots love tomatoes book said so.

Onions going to seed near the cabbage

Throughout the spring and early summer, I kept careful watch.  Things were going well.  If I noticed any problems, I would sprinkle cayenne pepper, spray soap water, or even squish a few eggs and worms by hand (yeck).

Early July- looking good

Everything was going fairly well until I got back from holidays.  My garden sitter said he had seen some butterflies getting through the netting.  So when I got back, I added a second layer.  But it was too late.  Our backyard had already become a cabbage butterfly sanctuary.  They were everywhere, and still getting through the netting.  I should have gotten a finer mesh.

A few of the heads of cabbage had gotten quite large, so I thought maybe I could just pick off the outer leaves and the insides would still be good.  How could any bug live inside a cabbage?  The time came to take the netting off and pick me some cabbage.  I chose the biggest head first.  But when I turned it over, there was slimy green eggs and worms everywhere.  Layer after layer I peeled, and just when I thought I got to a bug free zone, there another worm would crawl.  It actually really grossed me out.  None of the cabbage was salvageable, and it wasn’t even compost-worthy (and in our garden, even weeds are compost worthy) as I feared the grubs may move on to other things in the garden.  Into the garbage the ten or so heads went, along with the probably hundreds or thousands of worms and eggs.  A true cabbage fail.

So how did the pioneers do it?  They couldn’t of had access to this chemical ‘dust’ everyone talks about.  Well cabbage butterflies, this isn’t over yet.  Consider it a challenge for next year.  Ironically, while on holidays, I picked up a second hand book on organic plant protection.  The book is chock full of hints and tips from old timers, magazines and articles.  One old lady suggests sour milk.  Perhaps I’ll give that, or some of the other ideas a try next year.

But there’s always a silver lining.  While doing some weeding, I found a volunteer in another part of the garden.  Lemon balm that I did not plant!

Funny enough, I sit here and read about how lemon balm is “a member of the mint family, is considered a “calming” herb. It was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety…”  A must for organic cabbage growers!

Have you grown cabbage?  What are your horror or success stories?