When I saw the 'Hilton' Chinese cabbage for the first time, I knew this was the one for me. In my mind’s eye, I saw packed jars full of kimchi! Napa cabbage, or Brassica napa var. pekinensis ‘Hilton,’ was used primarily in northeastern Chinese culture for suan cai or Chinese sauerkraut. Korean culture may use Napa cabbage to make a usually spicy type of sauerkraut called kimchi. Napa cabbage originated in the Yangtze River delta region several centuries ago. From there it migrated to the rest of China and was once popular as a medicinal plant. Eventually this wonderful vegetable migrated to most of Asia. I am grateful this tasty, versatile vegetable wound up here in the United States.
'Hilton' Chinese cabbage has light green crinkled leaves with white petioles (leaf stems) and has a marvelous mildly sweet, light cabbage flavor. Attributes of this variety are numerous. Quick growing, heat resistant, multi-use and downright delicious are the valuable qualities of this Napa-type cabbage. Its growth habit is in every way similar and often superior to hybrid varieties!
'Hilton' Napa cabbage is easy to grow directly from seed. Napa cabbage generally benefits from fertile soil mixed with generous amounts of well-seasoned compost and manure. Give this variety plenty of room! When properly grown, the plants will span 24 inches. The leaves contain a lot of moisture. Drip irrigation is the best way to keep the soil evenly moist. Avoid using overhead watering to control possible diseases. Make the best use of cool temperatures. 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and 40 to 50 degrees at night are the ideal temperatures to produce the best 'Hilton' Chinese cabbage.
Row planting requires direct seeding 12 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to 18 to 24 inches when the plants are 4 to 6 inches high. Use the thinning for baby greens in salads or stir fry. Closer planting may be realized in raised beds. Final spacing is 18 inches apart in every direction. If you must use transplants, make sure you give the seedlings plenty of room to grow in the container. Otherwise, the seedling will get root bound. These resulting plants may fall over when mature in the garden. My experience is to direct seed to avoid the possibility of lodging specimens!
I experimented with 'Hilton' Napa cabbage in my hoop house during early spring. The plants grew twice the size of those planted outside! Some of the Napa heads exceeded six pounds and were huge. By the way, don’t worry if the temperature starts to rise above 80 degrees. The plants matured and looked no worse for the experience.
Slugs, snails, cabbage worms and aphids may cause problems with 'Hilton' Chinese cabbage. The slugs and snails may be dealt with by using diatomaceous earth (DE) as a preventative. Dust generously around the base of the plants to deter these slimy creatures. Your first line of defense against cabbage worms is hand picking twice daily. The pest is easily eliminated by using Dipel® (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki). When sprayed on plants, the bacteria will neutralize only caterpillars of Lepidopterous insects. The label for Dipel® is species specific (imported cabbage worm, diamond back moth worm) as to which caterpillars you may spray. Remember, the label is the law! Aphids may be removed by washing with water or using insecticidal soap. Diatomaceous earth is also effective to lessen infestations of aphids.
Interplanting with clover and onions has been shown to increase yields of cabbage crops by interfering with aphids’ and cabbage worms’ ability to properly see and smell the target crop. Predation by ground beetles is another benefit, due to their attraction to clovers. Plus, the flowers of clover and onions attract beneficial insects which will cause further predation.
Harvesting the heads of 'Hilton' Chinese cabbage is a simple procedure. Cut just above the lower flattened leaves with a large sharp knife. Don’t throw away those bottom leaves! Those leaves are good steamed, sautéed, or stir fried. Plus, if you leave the stem in the ground with the roots, you may get some small new heads as side shoots. See how productive Hilton is!
Any way you slice it, 'Hilton' Napa cabbage may be served fresh in a salad, steamed, stir fried, sautéed, as a garnish or pickled. It’s all good!
Did the idea of that spicy sauerkraut appeal to you? See: Kimchi Made with 'Hilton' Chinese Cabbage.
Art Davidson has been a horticulturist for 40 years. His education and additional certifications include ornamental horticulture, agronomy, ISA Certified Arborist, Integrated Pest Management, and Master Gardener. His experience includes growing vegetable, herb, and flower transplants, hanging baskets, holiday crops, ornamentals, tropicals, field crops, woody ornamentals and trees. He started gardening as a child and he still gets excited when seeds break soil and start to grow!