The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Perennial vegetables: Tree cabbage

Tree cabbages

Tree cabbages

Recently I visited a small and very good privately owned local nursery. Even though it was a weekday, there were quite a few people browsing.

I always enjoy chatting to the counter staff  if it’s quiet. These people know what exactly is passing through their tills and are often more straightforward than management. I was at the end of a long snakeing queue so I jumped in.
“How’s the grow your own stuff going this year?”
“OK but not a patch on last year. Of course we’re selling loads of tomato plants as usual.”
I was stunned. Usually I hear that the GYO market is growing so fast that it’s almost skidding.
“Why do you reckon that the grow your own sales have dropped off?”
“Well if I’m anything to go by they proved to be a lot of work. I just had pots and bought a few plants but the time and space that it took to grow a few cabbages was ridiculous. I work 6 days a week. There just wasn’t time to care for them.”

She was disappointed and of course she gave up on GYO. Walking to my car I felt depressed too. What a shame that she’d enthusiastically invested in baby plants, bought compost and dreamed. If we want to encourage the GYO movement we need to help more. Be more practical. Otherwise we could easily kill any latent enthusiasm in just one season.

We do grow cabbages here at CSH. But they require a lot of space for a small return. Sutherland Kale is a much better bet in terms of space and value. This is an easy to grow annual from seed. Vegetables like these are never available as mini plants at garden centres. Garden centres tend to focus on veg that everyone has heard of – they do need to sell plants after all.

I’ve met quite a few people who have tried to grow their own and found them to be more trouble than they are worth. Pressed for time, needing to work longer hours, the kids, washing and cleaning are priorities. The mini garden needs care to flourish but it so often drops off the bottom of the list.

This is where the value of perennial vegetables comes in. They continue to produce as you harvest so one or two plants are the equivalent to a long row in a kitchen garden. They feed you for a few years. A lot of them are attractive and would happily coexist with flowers and shrubs in a herbaceous border. They do need care and water but often not quite as much as a traditional annual vegetable. With all these plus points they are well worth investigating, growing and if you like them, talking about.

Today it’s Tree cabbage. This is a delicious perennial vegetable that I thought was an annual.

I bought seed from the Real Seed Company last year. Paul & Becky’s Asturian Tree Cabbage. With dyslexia at the helm, I read Austrian Tree Cabbage. Did they grow this in the mountains or valleys? I needn’t have worried. This grew well for us in a pretty bad spot, dry with overhanging trees.

I’ve since discovered that Asturia is a costal region of Spain.

Tree cabbage grows to about 2’/ 60cm. The leaves sprout from the top of the long fibrous stem. I reckon that it could be grown in a substantial pot. A couple of plants could satisfy the cabbage needs of a person living alone. In fact my mum is really keen to adopt a couple of plants and just pluck a few leaves for a sweet, ultra fresh and tasty cabbage experience. As a perennial, you harvest and then more leaves grow.

I’m not over keen on cabbage but I do like this variety. A sweet gentle flavour and satisfying. Danny adores cabbage so he’s thrilled with this plant.

A few of our tree cabbage plants were sprouting this spring – super sweet sprouts steamed for just a few minutes. I surmised that this was the flowering before death – like sprouting broccoli. Then I noticed that the sprouting plants were growing more leaves and really bulking up. When I consulted the seed pack, I discovered that tree cabbage is in fact a perennial. So now I’ve got five baby tree cabbage plants with nowhere to grow. I’m determined to find a space somewhere for this tasty, easy vegetable.

Our tree cabbages stood well over winter (with only a net to deter the wood pigeons). They were not knocked by the snow and freezing conditions apart from the two plants that had twisted down with their crowns touching the ground. I will stake the new batch to avoid this happening next winter. The leaves tasted even sweeter after the first frosts.

I’m not sure of the lifespan of this tree cabbage. Research in the Internet indicates at least two to three years. If you are short on space and time but would like a good supply of fresh cabbage leaves do try growing this plant. You’ll not regret it.


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16 Comments

  1. maggenpie

    I just had to pop back here and say that my original sowing of tree cabbages are still keeping me supplied daily with greens. I have even taken side shoots off, and simply stuck them into the soil. Without any care or attention they have quickly grown into new plants. The constant supply of fresh new leaves are lovely all year, so are the flower shoots which I use like broccoli. The older leaves go to my pet ducks who devour them with enthusiasm. Thank you so much for recommending them, they have become a valued addition to my tiny patch.

  2. Raenbow

    Here in Portugal no garden is complete without
    tree cabbage or Galician Cabbage as it is known round here. Some of the bigger varieties grow to about 6 feet! Great for underplanting to to give shade for faster cropping veg.

    Very east to plant and leave, take off the lower leaves and it just keeps on giving! I planted some 2 years ago and it’s still going and provides a great snack for the chickens too ( the reason I think it’s so popular round here in the hills!!

  3. Real Seeds don’t ship to the USA, Alison, only within Europe 🙁

  4. alison

    This sounds like the perfect thing for my garden, do you know if the company will mail seeds to the USA? I tried looking online and did not find a local supplier

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