Chinese cabbage looks quite different from the traditional variety, but it is packed with flavour and looks amazing in salads. It is a tough biennial which can be grown on a yearly basis. The vegetable is gorgeous to behold as well. It boasts broad, thick and tender leaves as well as thick midribs. There are several types that you can grow. Loosehead Chinese cabbage includes two varieties called pei tsai and bok choy. Loosehead cabbage is usually harvested for its stalks which grow back eventually. Then you have Napa cabbage and Michihili cabbage which have to be harvested at the head.
For this guide, I will tell you how you can grow your own Napa cabbage. This Chinese cabbage has oblong leaves that are wrapped tightly around the head. The stalks of this cabbage are a pristine white in colour and the leaves are a very pale green.
Growing Chinese Cabbage
Prepare the Soil
Grow this Chinese cabbage in the spring and about four to six weeks after the last frost. If you decide to plant the seeds in mid or late summer, the Chinese cabbage will mature as the temperature starts to drop. In other words, if you want to plant the Napa cabbage in spring, prepare the soil in winter and if you see yourself growing Chinese cabbage during the fall, prepare the soil in mid-summer.
If you are planting in the summer, make sure the spot you choose gets some shade as well. Pick a spot in your yard where the plants can get direct sunlight for at least six hours. The optimal temperature for growing Napa cabbage is 60 to 65F degrees Fahrenheit (https://homeguides.sfgate.com/optimum-temperature-growing-cabbage-67094.html). It can tolerate higher temperatures up to 80 degrees after which it will start to bolt i.e. flower and go to seed.
Planting Chinese cabbage in soil that has a pH level less than or more than 6.0 to 7.5 is not a good idea. To check, fill a small hole in the soil with water, allow it to get muddy and then insert a test probe in it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIX0ky1IBkM). These kits are available in grocery stores. If the pH level is higher than that, add some limestone to the soil and add sulfur to the soil if you need to lower pH levels.
You aren’t done yet. Add compost to the soil as well. Use a hoe to work it in. The organic matter will feed the Chinese cabbage as it grows to ensure it grows healthy. Plus, make sure that the spot is well-draining or the Napa cabbage will not grow properly. For example, don’t sow the seeds in clay or sandy soil. Test it before planting. To do that, dig a hole in the spot that is about a foot deep and about the same size in width. Fill the hole with water and allow it to drain and then fill it again. Measure the depth using a ruler and do this every couple of hours or so. If the soil is well-draining the water level should drop only an inch/hour.
If the soil is draining too fast or too slow, no need to panic. Just add some manure, peat moss or compost to it to make it drain well.
Sow the Seeds
Sow the seeds indoors in grow trays four to six weeks before the last frost. Plant these about 0.25 inches in the soil. If the Chinese cabbage plants start to develop roots before they can be moved into your yard for transplanting, move the seedlings to a larger container.
Keep the seeds moist but don’t overwater them. Just use a spray bottle to spritz some water on each seed every day to keep them wet. Harden the Chinese cabbage plants before you relocate them to the yard though. In other words, get the plants used to the outside weather conditions by placing the containers outside for an hour. Increase the hours each day till you get to seven to ten days.
If you plant the seeds outside, make sure they are about a foot apart from one another. Just dig a hole and place the seed in the soil before covering it up and watering it. If you are planting Chinese cabbage seedlings, fill the hole around the plant with soil before patting it down.
Give the Napa cabbage seed or seedlings a good soak after you plant them but don’t dump a gallon of water on them. Use a gentle spray head to pour a mist of water. A heavy soaking can dislodge the seeds/seedlings. Then just water the spots where you planted them each day lightly to ensure they keep growing.
Nurturing Chinese Cabbage
The Chinese cabbage should start to sprout from the soil in three to four days (https://homeguides.sfgate.com/long-cabbage-germinate-68772.html). Allow the cabbage to grow and thin it after two weeks till the leaves are healthy and tall. Just cut off the outer leaves at the base using gardening shears.
Additionally, thin out any Chinese cabbages that grow about a foot apart for flavorful heads. If you want larger heads on your Chinese cabbage, space each out by about 1.5 feet. Don’t throw out the cuttings! Wash them and add them in a salad or store them in the refrigerator for later use.
When it is particularly dry out, water your Chinese cabbage every other day or whenever you see that the soil is drying out. Soak it with water thoroughly. You can also use drip irrigation to prevent leave rot (https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/drip-irrigation/). The technique allows water to drip into the soil a little at a time. That way the leaves will remain dry and the soil will remain nice and moist.
Harvesting the Cabbage
The Chinese cabbage should be ready to harvest in about 60 to 90 days after the first sowing. At this time, the heads should be tough and dense. To harvest, firs take hold of the cabbage with one hand, reach under the last flat leaves with a sharp knife and slice right through the stem. It should come out easily. Just don’t wait too long to do this. The head may start to flower and will start to seed. The stem should get new shoots if the season isn’t over. Before storing the cabbage, remove the outer leaves first using a sharp knife.
Section 3: FAQ
Q: How do you grow Chinese cabbage from cuttings?
A: Here is a great guide you can use to learn how to propagate this cabbage from cuttings (https://www.greensguru.com/how-to-grow-chinese-cabbage-from-cuttings/).
Q: How long does it take to grow cabbage?
A: It takes 80 to 180 days for a cabbage to grow fully depending on the variety you are growing. Harvest when the weather gets too warm for spring or the cabbage will start to flower.
Q: How long does it take to grow Napa cabbage?
A: Napa cabbage takes about 70 to 80 days to grow fully.
Q: Why is my Chinese cabbage flowering?
A: Cabbage Chinese such as bok choy and napa varieties are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature. When the temperature increases, it can bolt i.e. produce flowers but if the temperature drops too much at night, it can go to seed.
Q: Can you regrow Napa cabbage?
A: Just like bok choy, Napa cabbage can regrow from the stem provided it is planted within the best season. If the season is about to end, the stems may not produce more cabbage.
Napa cabbage or Chinese cabbage Wombok is a bit challenging to grow but not if you practice. Just make sure that you:
- Sow the seeds in well-draining soil.
- Prune the cabbage as it grows to encourage new growth.
- Keep cabbage root maggots at bay.
- Make sure you plant during the best season.
- Water consistently but carefully. The soil should remain moist so water it once a week only.
If you have any questions about growing cabbage Chinese such as napa or even bok choy, drop your queries in the comments below and I will get back to you.