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?