Kids may turn up their noses at the smell of cabbage cooking in the kitchen, but thousands of youngsters nationwide take pride in growing the biggest cabbages they can.
Their gardening skills show up in the annual Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program, which earns them scholarships and hands-on lessons in the garden. In 2012, more than 1.5 million third-graders in 48 states tended to cabbages, hoping to win "best in state" and $1,000 in educational money.
"The program is a wonderful way to engage children's interest in agriculture, while teaching them the basics of gardening, and the importance of our food systems and growing our own," says Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants.
The biggest cabbage ever grown in the history of the program was a 65-pounder by the Montana state winner in 2011.
Launched nationally in 2002, the program awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each participating state. At the end of the season, teachers from each class select the student who has grown the "best" cabbage, based on size and appearance. A digital image of the cabbage and student is submitted online. That student's name is then entered in a statewide drawing. State winners are randomly selected by the commissioner of agriculture in each state.
Why a cabbage-growing contest?
Cabbages were the first successful crop for Bonnie Plants in 1918. Cabbages used for the third-grade program are OS Cross, or an over-sized one, that's known for producing giant heads, thereby making the process more exciting for kids, says a Bonnie Plants spokesperson. The program is free, geared specifically to third-graders, and is open to home-schooled students.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR GROWING CABBAGES:
Cabbages, which like to grow in cool weather, need at least six hours of full sunlight, more if possible.
Bonnie O.S. cabbages need at least 3 feet on each side to spread out. If you don't have that much space, use a large container.
Work some compost into the soil - cabbages love nutrient-rich soil.
Start your cabbage off right with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, then fertilize it every 10 days to keep it growing strong.
Your cabbage needs at least one inch of rainfall each week. If it doesn't rain, use a watering can or garden hose to gently water your plant at soil level.
Keep weeds out of the cabbage patch - they compete for the food and water your cabbage needs. Be on the lookout for brown or white moths - these come from worms that love to munch on cabbage. If you see any, get rid of them right away. Cold weather can damage your cabbage. If the weather gets below 32 degrees, cover your cabbage with a bucket or cloth covering.
In just 10 to 12 weeks, you should have a huge head of cabbage you can be proud of.