Eat Your Cabbage!

Remember those cabbage sprouts? They were “Mei Ching Choi” variety of bok choi (brassica rapa var. chinensis). They did well… about 100 days from planting, they’ve produced beautiful little bok choi heads. Delicious in a stir fry! Here’s how they looked on Wednesday – just a few days past prime (you can see they’re starting to bolt, i.e., send up flower stalks).

True Leaves

When seeds sprouts, the sproutlings will have one (monocots) or two (dicots) leaves. Most of the herbaceous plants and vegetable types in our yards and gardens are dicots, including the cabbages. These initial sprouts grow from the nutrients provide by the seed, activated by light and water. After a few days, these cotyledons will sprout their first set of “true” leaves. These will be shaped more like the mature leaves that the plant will develop (the cotyledons have a few shapes and are all quite small, cabbages have sort of heart shape). 

This morning, day 10 of the cabbage sproutlings, I noticed the true leaves are budding. You can just see them at the node between the two first leaves.  

(The onions are monocots so will have a single leaf. More on them later.)

Cabbage Sproutlings

After the first week, the cabbage sprouts are one to two inches tall. This is the “Mei Ching Choi” variety of Brassica rapa.

Some of them (two next to the label) still have the seed husks stuck on the first leaves: 

Within a day after 90% had sprouted, I placed them under a fluorescent light and started an initial mist with a liquid fertilizer. The fertilizer is mixed from a seaweed concentrate, SeaCom-PGR, diluted approximately 1:1,000. This concentrate should be rich in cytokinin hormones and deliver a 0-4-4 mix (i.e., no nitrogen but phosphate and potassium), so it should help root growth.  

I’m hoping these will be ready to transplant after 4-6 weeks. That will put them in the ground early, but I’m planning to plant in staggered groups about a week apart to  leave some backups if there is a hard frost. And if we’re lucky, that will also get us some early cabbage!  

If you’re trying this at home, too, and your seedlings aren’t looking too healthy, they may be afflicted by “damping off,” a complex of fungal disease that can affect germinating seeds and seedlings. More information about that at “How to Prevent Seedling Damping Off.”

Seed Project 2016

This year we’re gardening again. We’ve done a small garden the past two years. 2014 was not a good year – we didn’t prepare the soil well, didn’t sufficiently water the plants, and didn’t protect the harvest from birds or squirrels. We did better in 2015, when I took a gardening course through the Maryland extension, and we got a modest crop of tomatoes, a few zucchini, and strawberries (from the plants we started in 2013).

This year, we have fallen farther into the gardening trap. We’re not increasing the plot size (yet!), but we are planning for more veggie varieties and starting some from seed. So far the seeds are started for the cabbage (an Asian variety of Brassica rapa called “Mei Ching Choi”) and onions (Allium cepa of the “Ailsa Craig” variety).

Cabbage is quick! These were planted on Feb 13, just over three days ago. Already, more than 50% have sprouted! Here’s the little cotyledons earlier today:

For the selection of varieties and plant types for the early garden, I consulted the recommended vegetable cultivars for the MidAtlantic region (HGIC 70, U of Maryland) and bought seeds from Johnny’s and Territorial Seed.

Many more helpful tips and information sheets at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center.

Thinking of doing this yourself? Here’s another helpful resource from the University of Minnesota Extension: “Starting Seeds Indoors.”