Developing my overwintering cabbage landrace

Edited to add: I changed the title to broaden the scope of this thread; it will now be about all the aspects of my cabbage landrace development.

I’d like to start a cabbage landrace. We eat a lot of cabbage, but I have trouble growing it. The seedlings need to be started under cover due to the dry climate and erratic spring, and then the plants have to stay covered with rowcover to provide a humid microclimate and keep the cabbage aphids and cabbage worms off. (Otherwise, the inside of the cabbage becomes a disgusting mess.) But the humid microclimate provides a great environment for slugs and rots, so I often lose half of the plants under cover. I’ve never managed to get a fall crop of cabbages; going from our hot, dry midsummer to our erratic fall weather (we’ve sometimes dropped from near 100F daytime temperatures to freezing and snow within 48 hours, only to rapidly warm back up within the next week) just seems to be too much for them. Eventually, they turn mushy or fail to ever develop a head. In any case, the row cover is expensive, fragile, and non-renewable.

It seems like landrace development could solve this. For one thing, I’ve noticed that the pests don’t get into the head so long as the base is tight enough; if the base is tight, the damage can just be peeled off at harvest.

But to develop a landrace, I’d need to first get a bunch of different unadapted cabbages through the winter. I don’t have a root cellar. But I have heard that some people cut off (and eat) the cabbage head and only save the central core, stem, and roots. And I’ve had sections of brassica stem survive the winter in a cool compost pile.

So, I have two different ideas. Could I plant cabbages late enough that they wouldn’t form a head at all, but would be fairly large, and then just bury the whole plants under leaves or mulch? I know that I wouldn’t be able to select for heading that way, but this is just for the first year to get them through so they can cross; I already know they don’t work here.

Or, would it be possible to ask other gardeners in the area to save their cabbage stems after they’ve cut off the head? That way, I could get a bunch of different varieties (assuming they are open-pollinated) and the rot-prone head would be gone. Sure, the core would also be gone, but brassicas are good at sprouting from side buds, and I’d only need a few flowers to cross the first year.

I can’t offer advice being in a radically different climate but, when we harvest cabbages we usually leave the roots and a bit of above ground stem. More often than not, new growth begins and we either get a new head of cabbage or it goes to seed.

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We’ve only started planting cabbage since the fall, so I’ll be brief and defer to the experienced cabbage growers along us.

Both of those ideas sound great to me! The very small amount of cabbage we fall-sowed either didn’t come up or got ate, but I’ve little doubt the notion itself is sound. A number of cabbages are very hardy.

I had better luck with a grocery store savoy. It is still hanging in there, unmulched, after a bitterly cold December.

Whatever makes the most sense for you of late summer, fall, or even winter planted cabbage makes an awful lot of sense to me. On a tangential note, I believe chicories are often summer or fall planted because the frost-induced change in flavor is desirable to many growers.

@RayS and @H.B, Thanks for the advice! I will probably try to get most of the cabbages through the winter as immature plants, but I will include some “stumps” (since I will have them from harvesting anyway) and some mature heads (if they come through the winter, that’s a trait I will want in the future landrace.)

My eventual goal is a population of cabbages that can be planted in the summer, grow to a good sized head by the time the weather is getting cold, and them hold well through the winter with minimal protection, and get harvested through the winter, with the left-over stumps resprouting in the spring to produce seed. That way, space use is maximized, both for food and seed.

(I would also need a separate population for spring cabbages, selecting for ones that produce a nice head in the spring, grow back after cutting during the summer, overwinter, and then go to seed. Maybe I could combine the two pools, but I think the weather tolerances would have to be rather different and possibly opposite.)

When I am starting the cabbage landrace, should I do a separate pool for spring planting and fall/winter planting? I assume that the desired genetics would be fairly distinct; with spring cabbages, it would be important that they resist bolting when started in cool, fluctuating weather and be able to grow heads quickly; with fall cabbages, they’d need a lot of freeze tolerance and would need to be able to germinate well in hot, dry conditions but should actually need to grow heads more slowly, and bolting resistance wouldn’t be such a concern.

I have an idea to help you overwinter and this is based on Northern tactics from early settlers:

What if you bermed the sides of your row/block of cabbages (preferrably rows here) and then placed wood planks or plywood coverings over these rows and then covered this with a bed of thick straw. This would, in theory, give you a root cellar ‘in place’ as it twere. I’ve read in numerous places (anecdotally) the old timers would heel there cabbages into furrows under ground and do the same thing - this may even be more ideal in that you would have more innate Earthen insulation.

Anywho, just a thought.


Hello Malcolm,

I just wanted to address the idea you asked about getting cabbage stumps from neighbors. In Josephs book “Landrace Gardening” he explains why you would want to exclude certain hybrids from your landraces due to the use of breeding tactics that induce cytoplasmic male sterility in future generations. Cabbages were on that list so be cautious with that unless you can confirm what varieties your neighbors are growing. It would be disappointing to successfully winter over only to end up with males flowers that can’t sexually reproduce.

I am also working on wintering over cabbages because we eat a lot too and make sauerkraut for winter food. I planted around 150 starts last fall hoping their youthful stage of growth will provide them with the strength to make it through the long winter. We have had many reports of cabbages wintering over accidentally here in Alaska but no one has done it intentionally for seed that I know of. Sadly, I only planted two varieties because this was just before I discovered the beautiful concept of promiscuous pollination.

Looking forward to comparing more notes as our projects progress.

@Bizarro and @Lora Thanks for the suggestions!

I’d been thinking of burying the cabbages in mulch for the winter; it would certainly be easier to remove a sheet of plywood for harvesting! I might make mounds of mulch on each side of the bed and then put some sort of covering over them. I’m not sure if I’d want to allow for some light or not; that might just speed up their deterioration. And as soon as they started warming up in the spring they’d start bolting, so better to keep them as cool as possible into the spring.

Lora, That’s interesting that you’re trying to overwinter cabbages in Alaska! Did you mulch or cover them at all, or just leave them out? Do you get consistent snow cover through the winter? One of my problems here near Denver, Colorado is that snow doesn’t stay. We can get fairly cold; most winters we get temperatures near zero F at least once, and it freezes most nights between November and March. But at the same time, we have intense sun and frequent warm spells; getting temperatures over 55 in December and January is common. Combined with drying winds, this is a very difficult climate for overwintering. All the weeds and garden plants seem to brown off by January and start greening up again in the spring.

I suppose I would want to ask other gardeners whether they are growing open-pollinated varieties.

I’m still trying to figure out if I’d need separate spring cabbage and winter cabbage landraces, or if I could just use some of the seed from the winter cabbage landrace for planting some spring cabbages. The spring cabbages aren’t as important since there are so many other things to eat in the spring, and in any case, my commercial varieties do fairly well for spring cabbages, so long as I keep them covered with rowcovers.

Hey again, Yes we do have consistent snow cover here and our temps. are also below freezing for months on end so they will not have to deal with freeze thaw action until spring. Your conditions do sound challenging. I have stopped using much mulch because I realized that where I am the snow cover works and mulch can be problematic come spring for me, holding in the cold and water before I can get it off and rotting the crowns of my plants. We loose a lot of plants during our season change from winter to summer. We call it “Break up” when the snow melts, it gets icy, muddy, and very waterlogged for a long time. It’s probably not really too much harder to grow here then where you are. Just different. Our daylight hours in summer make up for our long dark winters. We call it “The Land of the Midnight Sun” because it doesn’t really get dark for a couple months. I’ll have news about the survival rates of my cabbages in about 12 weeks from now. How long do you have before you know about yours?

@Lora That does sound difficult! I suppose you couldn’t use a raised or mounded bed, because then it would freeze too hard in the winter.

One of the problems with growing in Colorado is that things don’t rot; compost piles just sit around and dry out. Though I have had rotting problems when I’ve used rowcover to protect the plants and we’ve had a wet spring.

I don’t have any cabbages in the ground this year, so I won’t know how things work until next spring. Right now I’m just collecting varieties to use in starting my landrace. I’ve ordered a cabbage grex from Peace Seedlings which should save me some time, and I will be adding some other varities—a heat-tolerant cabbage from Portugal, as many cold hardy winter cabbages as I can find, and whatever else I happen to end up with.

This is an excellent project! I have no experience with cabbage specifically, but I have started multiple brassicas late summer (In my Upstate NY 5b climate, I usually direct sow at the end of July/no later than the first week of August). I let them grow from seed in the bed, then cover them (like you do with your full grown cabbages). Then in the spring, they can continue to grow. Like you say, it can’t help select for head types, but they seem to survive better under cover when they aren’t fully grown. This works well for Kohlrabi and kales (and other crops, too), so I think it would be worth trying for cabbage.


Yes, that sounds like the easiest way to start the landrace and not have to worry as much about winter hardiness in the heads; selection can come later. I’ll probably try to overwinter some heads as well, just to experiment with different ways of protecting them and to see if any varieties already are resilient enough.

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Oh cool about the seeds! I haven’t come across a cabbage grex yet! Im going to check that out!

We actually do use mounded beds here so that water can drain away and the soil warms and dries faster. We just plan on everything freezing solid here. You would be amazed at how many plants can survive!

Yes, it was the only commercially available cabbage grex that I could find. I still haven’t received it; I hope it is still available. Without a grex, I’d have to wait to do much selection until the third year grow-out of the F2s.

Malcolm, I’ve had experience with about 80 winter cabbage varieties, mostly F1s. The numbers are so high because about two decades ago I found myself picking up overage from a major overwintering cabbage trial by Bejo representatives in the PNW - they passed along all their overage transplants to the food bank farm I was caretaking at the time, we put them in the ground, and took a look. I actually created a cabbage Grex from some of that material. Great idea, before it’s time. Gone away now.

I’ve personally trialed about 20 OP winter cultivars in the past couple of decades (winter cropping, a specialty). The only OP variety I’ve found that has anything near the winter hardiness to survive and thrive through PNW winters - a tough combination of wet and cold - is January King. The hardiest accession I’ve found comes from Adaptive Seeds. Uprising Seeds comes in second. Some accessions labeled January King from Italian Seed companies, aren’t. I’ve yet to find a ‘winter cabbage’ in an Italian seed catalog that can weather our winters. Savoy cabbages tend to be more not less susceptible to winter weather. The only exception I’ve found is Winter King Savoy from Adaptive.

Verza Moretta di Veronella from Uprising doesn’t quite have the hardiness but is in there for mid-winter as distinct from overwinter harvest, where January King will go all the way through, bullet-proof. Dowinda from Uprsing is cone of the best stewarded OP cabbages I’ve encountered, absolutely gorgeous - again, mid-winter rather than overwinter harvest is best.

It has been about 15 years since I was moving around hybrids. Among F1s, Tundra was the hardiest standout. Deadon came in second.

The information dated, but the link at the foot of this page “Where do we begin?” includes a section on cabbage.

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Thanks for all the info, I will look it over!

I planted January King, but it suffered during our hot summer and fall, so it went into the winter looking very sad. I’m still waiting to see which, if any, of the cabbages I planted last year will come back.

I’m hoping that at least initially I can overwinter post-harvest cabbage stumps for regrowth and seed production in the spring, since our winter is very hard on stuff.

Lots of issues with that species here, both for a nice harvest (cabbage worms, drought, heat) and seeds (don’t survive winter as mature plants) so I forgot about cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collards and made “broccil-ish” Broccil-ish thread. We’ve been eating it for two or three weeks, harvest will continue until the weather warms up enough for the worms to arrive and the flavor to decline, at which point it will trimmed back a bit and left for seed…

I put a lot of varieties in the initial mix and didn’t specifically record them, but I do recall January King was in there and I think it was one of the main ones to survive the first winter along with a few other cabbages and some brussels sprouts.

Yes, you’ve got quite the challenge there.

I just found out I’m going to be securing a small additional amount of additional OSU Broccoli Grex seed in the next week or so. Can I send you some now? Any idea how many seeds you’d want. Germ is about 85% at this point.

Thanks Nick! I would be happy to receive some seeds; I will PM you.

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Ive never gotten the timing on planting winter cabbages quite right, but many types of kale and collards overwinter great here in Southwestern Ontario’s zone 5 without protection - outer leaves may die but the stem lives on to put out new growth and flower in year two.

I have a lot more room to play in than previous years, hoping to transplant a couple dozen cabbages in mid-late summer and see whether I can get midwinter crops. Happy to report back, although I likely will pull before flowering so that my collard/kale grex doesnt get too cabbagey.

Your climate sounds like it has similar challenges in wild temperature swings and lots of freeze-thaw cycles.