By the Numbers: Cabbage

Frost on cabbage

Frosted cabbage

Is cabbage cost effective in the home garden?  Well, sort of.  Let’s run the numbers.

This year, I planted three varieties of heading cabbage from seed, “Brunswick,” “Early Jersey Wakefield,” and “Glory of Enkhuizen.”  All are fairly well respected varieties, but of those, I only got two smallish heads, from the Brunswick and Early Jersey Wakefield.  Since their failure has more to do with the horde of slugs and snails that infest my garden than any problem with plant productivity, I’m going to skip these for the purposes of this evaluation.

Instead, late season I was gifted with 10 small cabbage plugs of a commercial variety by my friends over at Food From the Yard.  They went into the garden quite late: September 1st.  I had ample room, so each cabbage got a full 4 square feet; I filled one 4’x10′ bed.  They were sprayed twice with Dipel DF to control cabbage worm, which is another pest I have in abundance.  Dipel is Bt, which is a very safe and specific control for lepidoptera pests.  (Don’t spray on plants that harmless butterfly larvae consume; it’ll kill them, too.)  I did lose two seedlings to slugs despite an application of Sluggo (iron phosphate), which is another very safe pest control option.

  • Cost of plants: none, but usually these would cost about $5
  • Cost of pest control: about $2
  • Labor: transplanting, two spray sessions of Dipel, one Sluggo application
  • Space: 400 sq. ft
  • Yield: 8 2.5-3.5lb. heads for 24 pounds of produce
  • Cost at retail: $0.62/lb. x 24 = $14.88
  • Gross value per square foot: $0.0372

So cabbage technically has a positive cash flow, if you ignore labor costs and have the available space in your winter garden.  Even if I had purchased the plugs, I would have netted about $7.  But that’s $7 for about 1 1/2 hours of work: well below minimum wage in any state.

Aside from the financial impact, cabbage stores and ships fairly well, so nutrient loss in cabbage that comes through the food distribution chain is minimal, and if there is a taste difference, it’s not one that I can detect.

I suspect, however, that I will continue to plant cabbage.  There isn’t much else that I can plant in late fall as garden bed space opens up that won’t be in the way next spring, so the space would otherwise be unproductive.  And while the financial benefits are borderline, the psychological benefits of seeing greenery in the garden and harvesting fresh food in December or January are hard to beat.



2 thoughts on “By the Numbers: Cabbage

  1. I wonder if you figure out how to make sauerkraut whether the cabbage would be more valuable. As a new gardener, I’m a little intimidated by the thought of all the bugs, although I’m familiar with the pesticides you mention from reading. What an adventure this will be!

    • I don’t think the sauerkraut affects the numbers, because one could just as easily make sauerkraut from purchased cabbage. For some people it might affect their *perception* of value, though, and that can be important, too.

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