Today, we will like to consider a very popular and well loved vegetable whose cultivation can put a farmer in the league of millionaire agripreneurs, in addition to serving humanity’s various health needs. The vegetable is cabbage, a leafy green, red or white vegetable which is grown annually, and belongs to the Brassica family. It is round or oval in shape with harder and dark green outer leaves covering the soft, light green or whitish inner leaves. Cabbage, a major component of salads, can also be eaten raw and used as vegetable in stews or soups.
Cultivation of cabbage has become a major source of income in Nigeria as it has been one of the most profitable forms of vegetables to cultivate. A sizeable head of cabbage goes for as much as N400 or N500. A hectare of cabbage farm can yield 70-80 tons or more if all planting conditions are fully met and this also depends on the variety planted. Another attraction of cabbage farming is that it is not capital intensive. In addition, since it is in high demand in the Nigerian market, its marketability is not in doubt.
Health benefits of cabbage
This wonder vegetable is a great source of numerous nutrients which meet various health needs of its consumers. It is rich in manganese, dietary fibre, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, iodine and various vitamins including vitamin C, B6, A, K and E. It also contains high level of antioxidants including flavonoid, zeaxanthin, lutein, choline and beta-carotene. These nutrients help solve several health issues including:
Antioxidant agent: Cabbage acts as a good detoxifier meaning that it purifies the blood and removes toxins – free radicals and uric acid – which are the main causes of rheumatism, gout, arthritis, renal calculi, skin diseases and eczema. This detoxifying effect of cabbage is due to the high content of vitamin C and sulphur in it.
Anti-inflammatory agent: Glutamine in cabbage, which is a strong anti-inflammatory agent, helps to reduce inflammation, irritation, allergies, joint pain, fever and various skin disorders.
Anticancer properties: Cabbage contains relatively high content of glucosinolates, which have anti-carcinogenic properties. This means that cabbage scavenges free radicals from the body, which are major contributors to cancer and heart diseases. Glucosinolates in cabbage can also help in the prevention of various cancers including breast cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer and colon cancer.
Digestive health support: The fibre in cabbage helps the body retain water and maintains the bulkiness of the food as it moves through the bowels and treats constipation.
Heart health & cholesterol control: Cabbage is rich in polyphenols, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by lowering LDL cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure.
Boosts immunity: The high vitamin C content of cabbage enables it to boost the immune system and fight off free radicals.
Skin care: Antioxidants in cabbage, including vitamin C, anthocyanins, and sulphur, play a major role in skin health and the general improvement of the body with regard to the ageing process. Free radicals can be an underlying cause of wrinkles, skin discolouration, spots, and many other conditions. Therefore, the antioxidants derived from eating cabbage can cause a turn-around in the ageing process, leaving a healthy and young look.
Prevents cataract: Cabbage is a rich source of beta-carotene, so it prevents macular degeneration and promotes good eye health as well as delaying cataract formation.
Improves bones: These three essential minerals in cabbage, namely, calcium, magnesium and potassium are integral in the protection of bones from degradation and the onset of conditions like osteoporosis and general bone weakening.
Prevents prostate cancer: The beta-carotene in cabbage has been linked to reduced chances of prostate cancer.
Improves brain health: The presence of vitamin K and anthocyanins in cabbage makes it a powerful brain food, which can boost mental function and concentration. Vitamin K also improves defense against neural degeneration, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
Speeds-up healing: Cabbage is rich in sulphur, which is useful in fighting infections. It also reduces the frequency and severity of ulcers. Cabbage can also be used for the treatment of varicose veins, leg ulcers, and peptic and duodenal ulcers.
Cabbage comes in a number of varieties, namely, red cabbage, choy sum, bok choy, savoy cabbage, napa cabbage, cannonball cabbage, January king cabbage, among others. These are divided into three major classes, the early season varieties, mid-season varieties and late season varieties. Aside these, there are the hybrid varieties which are seen to be more important. Some of them include Thai cabbage and F1 cabbage from Technism, among others. These hybrid species are known to germinate faster, withstand disease invasion and pest attacks, produce larger cabbage heads and also mature faster, say within two months of cultivation.
Soil type: Cabbage thrives on well drained sandy-loam soil and can be planted anywhere in the country without the fear of poor yield, as long as proper farming practices are followed. Sandy-loam soil ensures optimal performance of the plant.
Land preparation: The land should be cleared of all weeds and shrubs and fumigated with pesticides to ward off any form of pests. Plough the land to loosen the top soil. This can be done with a shovel or hoe if it is a small land but if the land is large, it might require a tractor. After ploughing, some animal or inorganic manure can be added to the soil to help prepare it for planting. Finally, the seed beds should be prepared for the planting.
Planting: First, a hole of about 2-3cm deep should be dug and about 2 cabbage seeds inserted into it, then covered lightly. It is advised that this initial planting be done in nursery bags, rubbers or sack bags. Growing cabbage in the nursery is necessary. Grooves are marked with a stick to hold the seed. The seeds are sprinkled evenly along the grooves, preferably with hands, to lightly spread the soil to cover the seeds. It is also important to apply water fertilizer. Water should be applied in the morning and evening. To prevent birds from picking the seeds and protect the young shoots from direct sunlight, stalks or grasses are used to cover the top of the bed(s). The cabbage seeds will begin to germinate four to five days later. Stalks should be protected from water erosion and direct sunlight.
Transplanting cabbage: It is due for transplanting after three to four weeks in the nursery. To transplant, you need to have prepared your farmland, whether beds or ridges, ahead of time. When transplanting, be generous with spacing. This is to allow for blossoming and to enable the cabbage heads attain maximum size. Give a space of about 45cm between each plant, while the rows should be about 45–60cm apart. Fertilizer should be applied at the base of the plants after transplanting. It is ideal to use organic fertilizer more as it is safer, improves the soil structure, and enhances the water and nutrient holding capacity of a soil.
Caring for the plant: To ensure optimal conditions, continuous care should be given to the plants. This means weeding, and chemical application should be done continually. Chemicals are applied to the cabbage leaves/heads/bulbs to kill or ward-off destructive insects and pests. It is necessary to exercise caution in applying these chemicals, which are harmful for human consumption and should be applied only when the cabbage is not fully developed. It does not remain on the leaves for long as it wears off gradually. For optimal production, cabbage plants need a minimum of about 3.8cm of water weekly.
Application of manure or fertilizer: Cabbage consumes a lot of nutrients during maturing stages. It is important that you constantly refresh the nutrient content of the soil by carefully applying manure or fertilizer at each stage of the development of the cabbage plant. At the initial stage, when preparing the seed beds before planting, ensure that manure is applied heavily. After this, when transplanting, manure should also be applied. Towards the later development stages of the vegetable, once they start to develop heads, the kind of manure required is one rich in potassium. This helps to keep the leaves in colour as well as help the stems develop properly.
Pests and diseases that attack cabbage: The most common pests that attack cabbage plants are cabbage white, flea beetles, maggots, imported cabbage worms, loopers, etc., while the most common diseases that affect cabbage include fusarium yellows, club root, black speck, rot, fungal disease that builds in the soil.
The major way to combat these is to plant resistant varieties, mostly hybrid species.
Harvesting: Early cabbage takes about 50–70 days to mature, while mid-season cabbage takes 70-90 days, and late season takes 90-125 days. The head should be firm before harvesting. Harvesting can be done with a knife. The head should be cut at its base, leaving about 3 leaves that will protect the head from bruises. After harvesting, ensure to wash the cabbage and inspect to remove any insects before storing them.
The remaining stem in the soil will continue developing while harvesting will continue just like in lettuce and waterleaf.
Selling harvested cabbage: Sell to market men and women in your locality who will in turn sell to their customers. Also seek out supermarkets, salad shops, restaurants, hotels, etc., that will need cabbage.
With additional materials from Eni Best Agro & Business Blog