‘Red Express’ Cabbage
By Art Davidson
‘Red Express’ cabbage is aptly named. Sixty-three days to maturity is a sprint in the cabbage world. The 1-1/2 to 2-pound, tightly compact, rock-hard heads of reddish-purple are your reward! Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra ‘Red Express’ is quite a mouthful for a botanical name. Farmer and breeder Nash Huber developed and improved this delightful quick-maturing variety for northern climates and space-saving gardening. It is a pleasure to see an open-pollinated variety as a viable alternative to hybrids. The mildly, sweet flavor with a hint of pepper, makes ‘Red Express’ cabbage a winner.
‘Red Express’ can be either directly seeded or started by transplant. The preferred transplant method requires you to start the seeds in cell packs or small pots 4 to 5 weeks prior to planting outside. Red cabbage varieties should be started using a soil-less mix plus well-seasoned compost or soil blocks. Direct sun or good artificial light for 16 hours a day, plus some bottom heat at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, will produce the best seedlings. Spring planting of ‘Red Express’ begins in mid-February in these Missouri Ozark hills. Harden off the seedlings in a cold frame, hoop house or greenhouse for a few days. Plant transplants by mid-March to get beautiful heads in early May. The ‘Red Express’ cabbage plants are more compact than most varieties, which allows for closer planting. Spacing for row gardening is 15 inches to 18 inches with rows 2 feet to 3 feet apart. Raised beds allow for tighter planting 12 to 15 inches apart in every direction. Red cabbages are heavy feeders benefiting from ample amounts of compost and well-rotted manure. After 30 days of growth, supplemental fertilizer, such as fish or seaweed emulsion, will greatly benefit the growth and subsequent heading of ‘Red Express’ cabbage. It is important to remember that cabbage benefits from cool, moist conditions.
Consider the use of companion planting with beets, onions, leeks, spinach, and Swiss chard. The roots of these vegetables are at different soil horizons, which provide nutrients to the cabbage that it might not receive otherwise. Plus, there is the benefit of confusing and deterring insects. By the way, the plant breeder, Nash Huber stated that ‘Red Express’ cabbage had the lowest pressure from aphids than any other variety of red cabbage he trialed.
I trialed ‘Red Express’ in my hoop house. The plants grew rapidly in the controlled environment. Cabbage heads were approximately 1 pound to 1-1/2 pounds each. The temperatures by mid-spring spiked to nearly 100 degrees which caused some of the heads to split. I subsequently have discovered irrigating more often might have prevented the splitting. The plants were easily smaller than most varieties of cabbage. Having extra planting space allows opportunities to plant more veggies.
Harvesting ‘Red Express’ cabbage is easy. Spread the non-heading leaves out and down to get to the base of each cabbage. With a sharp knife cut all the way through the stem horizontally and remove the head. The heads may immediately go into cold storage. They will last several months in the refrigerator.
The ‘Red Express’ cabbage may be served in many ways. Quartered and steamed, sautéed, stir fried, in coleslaw, sauerkraut, as a garnish and pickled.
‘Red Express’ pickled is delicious. My family loves the flavor and texture. Find a that pickling recipe here!
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 seed breaks soil and starts to grow!
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