It's cabbage time, how to make sure they get sprouting
There are few crops I get more value from than red cabbages.
They look beautiful, both in the garden and the kitchen, and their crisp texture and sweet flavour enliven winter meals, whether as a cooked veg or a salad ingredient.
Stored in a shed or garage they'll last well past Christmas and, of course, they make glorious pickles and sauerkrauts.
Red cabbage isn't the easiest vegetable to grow - there's a fair amount of work involved.
But against that it's worth mentioning that in last year's endless rain my reds were bigger and tastier than ever.
I've also had decent harvests in much drier summers, when I've remembered to water regularly, so this is a crop that will rarely be ruined by weather.
The variety I usually choose is Red Rookie. I find it reliable and it's faster to mature than most - from an early sowing it should be available to pick from August, but will stand in the ground quite happily until October, allowing you to extend the season.
The seeds can be sown in small pots or trays in February or March, in a cold frame, an unheated greenhouse or conservatory or on a windowsill.
Or you can sow them straight into the soil in March or April, thinning the seedlings as they emerge to leave them about four inches apart.
Either way, by May they'll be ready to plant out in their final positions - 18'' x 18'' apart, when they have three or four "true" leaves (in other words, not counting the original pair of seedling leaves).
The best position for red cabbage is in firm, rich soil, in a sunny place which is moist but not prone to waterlogging.
Slugs and snails will attack them early on, so protect the young plants with physical barriers, such as copper slug rings, or collars made from cut-down plastic bottles.
Caterpillars, and to some extent birds, are the main pests later on. There is only one answer - from first day to last keep the cabbage bed completely covered with fine-mesh butterfly netting, sold by garden suppliers.
Raise it on sticks about two feet high to keep it clear of the mature plants.
It's easy to tell when your reds are ready. They look tightly furled and full, like an Edwardian union official bursting out of his waistcoat, and there's a heavy, solid feel to them.
In any case, they need harvesting before the first proper frosts of autumn, which would soften them.
I don't bother trying to store any undersized cabbages - the small ones seem to go soft early in the winter.
But those that weigh around two pounds or more I trim, cut off the stems and gently remove any outer leaves that are damaged or a bit rotten.
Then I hang each cabbage in a separate mesh bag. The sort that seed potatoes are sold in are ideal. They need to be somewhere airy, cool and frost-free.
Follow Mat's gardening tips on Twitter @StarGardening.