The Cost of a Well-Grown Cabbage


Out in the gardens this morning, harvesting for market, I started figuring (or figirin’, in the colloquial).  I was harvesting my beautiful Caraflex spring cabbages and thinking about how much I should charge per head.

The row of cabbage I was mostly cutting from is in the north central garden (I have another row in the east garden that are a little bit slower), and it’s, oh, maybe 25 feet long.  It holds seventeen cabbages.

Those cabbages were started in my house in a seedling mix that I put together myself.  They were grown under lights until they reached transplant size (4 weeks or so), and then hardened off outside and transplanted (with a shot of fish emulsion in the water) into a row that had been amended with composted horse manure.

Then they were dusted with diatomaceous earth to protect against cabbage borers, cabbage butterflies, and other things that like to eat cabbage as much as I do (maybe even more than I do) and then covered with floating row cover to protect against bunnies and deer, and secured with landscape staples (and a few rocks).

When they started heading up, I weeded around them, gave each a half cup of composted chicken manure, and dusted them again.  I watered them a few times when it was dry, though lately that hasn’t been an issue.

Seventeen cabbages fit in that north central garden row, and despite my best efforts, one cabbage was eaten by rabbits or deer (it was at the end didn’t quite fit under the row cover), and one was invaded by a cabbage borer.

So, that gives me 15 cabbages to sell out of that row (there’s another 25 or so in the east garden). I harvest them by cutting them low on the stem, handling carefully to avoid breaking leaves, dunking them in cool water to rinse off any critters, diatomaceous earth, and soil, and pack them gingerly in my coolers, which hold only about eight heads each.

By comparison, I had a row (same size) of salad mix in that same garden that was amended with composted horse manure as well.  The salad mix was direct-seeded, so required less labor and did not spend time under lights in my house or use up any seedling mix.  It did get more water to aid in germination, and it did get some intensive weeding time (harder with this kind of thickly-sown crop).

The salad mix did not get fish emulsion, nor did it get chicken manure.  It was row-covered.  Altogether, I harvested that row four times (which is a somewhat intensive process), and got about thirty total bags of salad mix each harvest.  My salad mix sells for $3.50/bag, but let’s say three, because I would add other herbs and arugula as well.  Total gross off the salad mix row: $360.

In order to gross that much off 15 cabbages, I’d have to charge $24 a cabbage. If I divided it by the seventeen cabbages I actually planted in that row, that’s still a shade over $21 apiece.

Well, obviously, I’m not going to charge $21 per cabbage.  That would be a good way to have a lot of cabbage on hand after the market, as well as a lot of people questioning my sanity. Too, I don’t expect to gross the same amount off every row I grow (wouldn’t that be nice!).

All this figirin’ has led me to realize (as I’ve been told Steve Solomon notes in Gardening When It Counts) that growing cabbage, as compared to a lot of other crops, takes more labor, more space, and more fertility. “When it counts,” it’s probably not the crop to grow.

And, unlike the salad mix, when you cut it, it doesn’t “come again.”  You might get a ring of tiny cabbages around the base of the plant if you’re lucky, but they’re not really salable, and it makes more sense to simply succession-plant that space with another crop once the cabbage has been cut rather than reserve the space and hope for teeny cabbages.

With all that said, I’m thinking of my beautiful and well-grown spring cabbages as a “treat.” And I’d wager they’re a treat that, if compared with a conventionally-grown cabbage in a laboratory setting or a taste-testing, would prove a far superior product.

I’ll have these cabbages at the farmers market this week (today!) and next, and perhaps even a few into a third week.  I’ll be charging $4 per luscious, crispy, lovingly-grown head.  Now doesn’t that sound like a good deal?

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Good deal, indeed.

    And…at the local farmers market here in Wisconsin those little bitty cabbages that grow after cutting the big mama cabbage are considered a delicacy.

    Usually sold 2 for $x or 3 for $x. One vendor throws 3 cabbages and 2 carrots and an onion in a bag and gets $4 or so for it. Myself, I’m partial to those little bitty cabbages.

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on June 19, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Maria–

    I may allow the itty bitties to develop on the second row of cabbages in the east garden, but I’m using that cabbage row in the north central garden for cukes (and am about to post on that particular experiment!).

    The packaging of cabbages, carrots, and an onion sounds nice! I may have to try that!

    –re.

  3. When rabbits or deer get into my garden and eat my plants, I eat them back.
    But I only eat rabbit in the winter after a good hard frost kills off the sick ones.

  4. Posted by flyingtomato on June 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    We let the coyotes (or the dog) eat the rabbits when we kill them. Having coyotes around is a good way to keep the deer in check, too. Despite being fairly accustomed to the skinning of rabbits from my childhood in a trapping and hunting family, most of the time I’m either too busy or not hungry enough to prepare/cook a rabbit, unless someone cleans it for me (and I do think they’re better in winter–if only because a nice slow braise or stew is the best way to cook them–not a hot weather meal). But, having a few rabbits (and squirrels and deer) around is a good insurance policy against hunger.

  5. Having an organic micro-farm in New York, I really appreciate this post about the cost in time, space, materials and, of course, labor that go into the growing of certain vegetables. I also chose Caraflex cabbage to grow because of its compact nature (and interesting cone-shaped form) and just harvest the first today and also figuring out how much to charge per head. If people understood the whole process from seeding starting, maintenance and harvest, they would better understand the effort it takes to grow one single crop. One of our earliest crops we start are celeriac – in February! And hope to harvest in September or October. That will be a tough one to figure out in cost! Thanks for this post…

  6. Posted by flyingtomato on July 19, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Pam–

    I hear you about the celeriac–I grew it last year, and also started in February. When a crop takes that much field space for that long, it’s hard to come up with a price that both grower and customer find reasonable! It wasn’t a good crop for our heavy clay soil, but I managed to get a nice harvest–most of which I ended up keeping for myself! It’s not something you typically see around here, and while there were some adventurous folks, most passed it over. Good thing it stores well!

    I’d wager in New York, your prices would be about double (or more) what we can charge in the Midwest and Prairie states. I’m always amazed when I go to markets on the coasts and see the prices–but cost of living and land values play into that, so it ends up being about the same, all things considered.

    Thanks for your comment!

    –Rebecca

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