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When the fall harvest starts to roll in, we gardeners can quickly find that we have more food than we can eat in a short period. So, many of us look for ways to store our vegetables to have food in the winter. Cabbage is just one of these many fall vegetables.
The 4 best ways to store your cabbage over the winter are to keep them in a root cellar, in a garden trench, in a refrigerator, or to ferment them for later consumption.
I’ll go over the details for each of these methods to help you figure out what is best for your fall cabbage. I’ll also share some good storage varieties that you can try growing in the next season.
Why you should store cabbage
If you decided to grow a lot of cabbage this year, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to eat them all before they go bad. Therefore, you need a place to store them.
Storing cabbage ensures that all of your heads last through the winter. And having garden-grown food to eat in the winter is one of the biggest parts of being self-sufficient.
If you live in a more temperate or cold region that gets winter temperatures frequently below 32 degrees, then you’re likely not producing any food in the winter, unless you have some type of indoor growing space.
Most of us small home gardeners don’t have indoor growing space and so we depend on storage spaces like root cellars or pantries to keep our fall harvests good all winter.
Storing cabbage in a root cellar
If you have a root cellar this can be a great place to store cabbage for the winter as well as many other garden veggies like potatoes, carrots, and beets.
The important thing to know about storing cabbage long term is that they like cold temperatures and high moisture levels. This way they don’t dry out on the inside. This is different from a lot of other commonly stored vegetables which usually prefer drier storage areas.
Once you’ve harvested your cabbage, you’ll want to check for any rotting or bruised cabbage heads. The heads should feel relatively hard and not have any squishy parts.
If you do find a questionable head, either cut the bad part off and consume the rest immediately or discard the whole head if it’s unsalvageable.
Next, leave all the outer leaves on the cabbage. It may be tempting to want to clean up your cabbage heads a bit by removing some of the not-as-pretty outer leaves. But don’t! These leaves actually protect the cabbage while in storage and will help to keep them from drying out.
You may also be tempted to wash your cabbages before storing them. But don’t do this either. Although they do like storage areas with higher moisture levels, too much water on the outside of the head will start to encourage disease and rot. You can give your cabbages a good wash as you pull them out of storage to eat.
Find a good shelf in your cellar or basement to lay the cabbage heads on. If you have enough space, try to spread them out far enough that they’re not touching. This way, if rot does start to develop on a cabbage, it’s less likely to spread to the other heads.
If you don’t have shelf space, you can also hang the cabbages from the ceiling with some twine. Make sure not to cut the stem too short when harvesting as this is what you will tie the twine to.
If stored properly, your cabbage heads can last up to 4 months in a cellar. This is long enough to last you most of the way through winter if not all of the way.
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Storing cabbage in a garden trench
For any gardeners out there that don’t have a root cellar to store cabbages in, you may want to consider digging a storage trench to keep them in over the winter.
Storage trenches are cool in that they work similarly to a cooler or refrigerator but also help to maintain moisture in the cabbages themselves.
To make a storage trench in your garden, you’ll want to dig a spot about 2 feet deep in the ground that’s big enough to lay your cabbages in one even layer.
Once you have the trench dug, you can put in a good thick layer of straw to help keep the trench insulated. Then, once your cabbages are in the trench, go ahead and throw in some more straw until all of the heads are covered.
Then cover your trench with something like a tarp to protect them from the snow. Snow is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the trench method. Snow can be quite beneficial in that it adds yet another layer of insulation to your storage trench.
With this method, it’s important not to cut the roots off the cabbage before placing them in the trench. This helps to keep the water from leaching out through the root stalk.
Storing cabbage in a refrigerator
Depending on how much cabbage you plan to store, your refrigerator can be a great place to keep them long-term. The only downside to refrigerators is that they are quite dry inside which can be problematic for humidity-loving cabbages.
To help with this, the best place to keep your cabbage is the crisper drawer of your fridge because the drawers are designed to preserve humidity within their compartments.
But, unless you have a very large fridge, your crisper drawer is only likely to store two cabbages at most. Once you run out of room in your crisper drawers, you can also store cabbages on the normal shelves of your fridge. Putting your cabbages in plastic bags will help preserve moisture in the heads and keep them from drying out.
Preserving cabbage via fermentation
If you’re a little bit more adventurous, you might consider trying fermentation as a method of cabbage preservation.
I’m sure many of us are familiar with sauerkraut which is a form of fermented cabbage. I think sauerkraut is delicious but not everyone is a fan. Once fermented, the cabbage takes on a sour and tangy taste which can be a delicious complement to lots of food dishes.
People have many different methods for preparing sauerkraut and there are lots of great recipes and guides out there for you to try. But, in the meantime, here is my quick, abbreviated version for you all.
The first step in making sauerkraut is to chop up your cabbages into small slices or pieces. Then, you want to add some coarse salt to your chopped cabbage.
Once the salt is added, you need to pound that cabbage a bit to get all of the juices out. I like to use the end of a wooden spoon for this part. For very large batches, I’ve even seen people use a giant log to pound buckets full of chopped cabbage.
Finally, you want to fill your glass jar(s) up about ⅔ of the way. Make sure to pack the cabbage down in the jar to remove any air bubbles. You want to leave room at the top for your jar to place a weight.
This weight will help keep the cabbage submerged in the salty juices that you extracted during the pounding. This juice is also called a brine. As a weight, I will use a small plastic bag of water that I set right on top of the cabbage in the jar.
I don’t put a lid on my jar and I leave it out on the counter for about 3 weeks, at which point it should be fully fermented. Once fermented, sauerkraut can be stored in your fridge for up to 6 months.
For more in-depth information on how to make sauerkraut, check out some of these resources:
- The Art of Fermentation– this is a great book that I use for many fermentation projects that I take on.
- The Farmer’s Almanac– always a good resource and they have a great in-depth sauerkraut recipe.
- Minnesota Agricultural Extension– this website has a whole page on safe food preservation practices and a sauerkraut-making guide.
Best cabbage varieties for storage
Some varieties of cabbage have better storage life than others. Here are some varieties that I think are the best for long-term storage:
By now you should be ready to put all of your cabbage away for the winter. Whether you choose to store them in a root cellar, in a refrigerator, or even process them into a ferment to enjoy during the cold months, your cabbage is sure to last you till spring comes again.
Just make sure to discard any rotting heads to help prevent the spread of diseases and keep blemished outside leaves on the heads until you’re ready to use them. This will keep the cabbages from drying out and prolong their shelf life.
Katz, Sandor Ellix. “The Art of Fermentation” (2012) https://www.amazon.com/Art-Fermentation-Depth-Exploration-Essential/dp/160358286X
The Farmer’s Almanac. “How to Make Sauerkraut” (2022) https://www.almanac.com/how-make-sauerkraut
Minnesota Agricultural Extension. “How to make your own sauerkraut” (2021) https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/how-make-your-own-sauerkraut
Johnny’s Selected Seeds. “Cabbage” (2022) https://www.johnnyseeds.com/vegetables/cabbage/
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!