One of my favorite things about working for Bonnie Plants is getting to see all of the inspiring, delightful (and sometimes wonderfully silly) pictures of kids growing enormous cabbages as part of our 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. And when I say “enormous,” I’m not exaggerating: This special variety of cabbage can, given enough space and care, grow to weigh 50 pounds or more!
This is a truly remarkable program in which third graders across the country are given young cabbage plants to grow, as a way to teach them through first-hand experience where their food comes from — and, with luck, to instill a lifelong love of gardening in each one. Many kids bring the cabbages home, while others plant them in their school’s garden. Either way, the program takes learning outside the classroom and into the real world. Kids get their hands dirty, literally, learning to grow and care for their little green pals. They become responsible for nurturing another living organism — a first for many kids.
The program also teaches kids to be better members of their communities. Many go on to donate their harvested cabbages to local food pantries, and the wonder of seeing something THEY grew provide such a basic necessity to their own neighbors can be life-changing.
What’s more, each child who grows a cabbage has the opportunity to enter a contest to win a $1,000 state scholarship from Bonnie Plants. But even if they don’t win money, kids come away from this program with more self-confidence and a feeling of accomplishment that’s worth more than any prize.
Of course, the more success a kid has, the more likely he or she is to benefit from the experience. So with that in mind, here are 12 things your child can do to have a terrific cabbage-growing experience:
Make sure your child’s class is signed up. Ask the teacher! If he or she hasn’t signed up yet, send them this link to learn about the program and sign up. (The sign-up deadline for the current school year is February 15th.)
Plant it right away. Those little pots don’t offer a lot of room for roots to grow, so your child will want to get his or her little green friend into the ground or a larger pot as soon as possible after bringing it home. (Get planting tips here.)
Give it space. This is a big plant! In the garden, it will need at least 3 feet of growing room on each side. Or, it can be grown in a pot (with drainage holes) that’s at least 18 to 24 inches in diameter.
Pick a sunny spot. Cabbages need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day in order to thrive—and more is even better.
Protect it from the cold. Mature cabbages do fine in temperatures down to around 29°F, but tender young seedlings need a little extra care. Your child can either take the plant inside each evening until the weather warms a bit, or cover it at night with a frost cloth, an old milk jug with the top cut off, or even a bucket (just make sure to uncover it in the morning).
Don’t forget to water. To grow big and strong, cabbages need a total of about an inch of water per week from rainfall and watering.
Feed it. Plants need nutrients just like people do. While they can get a lot of what they need from the soil, applying a liquid fertilizer like Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food will give your child’s cabbage an extra boost.
Check for bugs. Holes in the leaves are a sure sign that cabbageworms are at work, slowly devouring your cabbage. Encourage your child to remove these little green caterpillars by hand, and to be sure to look underneath the leaves, where they like to hide. (Here are some more problem solving tips.)
Harvest at the right time. When the head of the cabbage feels firm to the squeeze, it’s ready to be harvested. Help your child cut it off at the base. Tip: The most impressive looking cabbages tend to still have their outer leaves attached — plus, they’ll weigh more.
Take a great digital photo. Use your phone or digital camera to take a high resolution image of cabbage and child together—the more creative the setting, the better. (Go here for more tips on taking a great digital cabbage photo.)
Weigh the cabbage. Again, leave the outer leaves on for the highest weight. Use a produce scale if you have one; if not, a regular digital scale should do.
Send the image and weight to your child’s teacher. And you’re done! Well, almost. Now you and your child just need to figure out what to do with all of that yummy cabbage.
For more information, visit our 3rd Grade Cabbage Program website. Happy growing!
Article written by Su Reid-St. John.