Another growing season invites third-graders nationwide to participate in the “Kids Grow Green: Cashing in Cabbage” program by Bonnie Plants.

Bonnie Plants is a brand of starter vegetable plants sold nationwide at independent garden centers and mass merchants like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart.

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 at That student’s name is then entered in a statewide drawing. State winners are randomly selected by the commission of agriculture, in each of 48 participating states. Typically, 1.5 million third-graders take part in the hands-on gardening experience, some of them raising cabbages that are as large as a basketball, tipping the scales at more than 40 pounds.

In 2013, winning cabbages weighed 46 pounds in Alabama, 38 in Florida, 16 in Texas, 20 in Arizona, 59.78 in South Carolina, 28 in Pennsylvania and 30.4 in New York.

In McLean, Va., winner Leo Massery, a third-grader at Kent Gardens Elementary School, grew a cabbage that weighed 21.6 pounds and measured 40 inches across one way and 37 inches the other way.

“When I got my plant I went home and on the weekend my Papa and I planted it,” he says.


“We used compost and fresh fish guts under the plant as fertilizer. We went fishing that weekend for trout and used the guts, heads and tails as fertilizer. It worked great. I also weeded it and watered it as needed. I checked on it every day. We also used organic bug spray to keep the bugs from eating it. It was the biggest thing I ever grew. It was a lot of fun.”

Participating is easy for third-grade teachers who want to sign up. Bonnie Plants, which has 72 plant stations nationally, delivers free O.S. Cross, or oversized, cabbage plants to third-grade classrooms for teachers who have requested them online at As the kids grow and nurture the cabbages, teachers can incorporate science and math lessons into the process.

Why a cabbage? Cabbages were the first plant sold by Bonnie in 1918, and the cabbages used for the program produce giants that make the process adventurous for kids.

“The program is a wonderful way to engage children’s interest in agriculture, while teaching them not only the basics of gardening, but the importance of our food systems and growing our own,” says Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants.

IF YOU WANT TO GROW your own colossal cabbages at home with or without kids, here are some tips from Bonnie Plants on how to get them growing:

Let the sunshine in. Cabbages need at least six hours of full sunlight, more if possible.


Survey your site. Bonnie O.S. cabbages need at least three feet on each side to spread out. If you don’t have that much space, use a large container.

Amend the soil. Work some compost into the soil – cabbages love nutrient-rich soil.

Feed the beast. Start your cabbage off right with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, then fertilize it every 10 days to keep it growing strong.

Water wisely. 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.

Tend to trouble. 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 Fahrenheit, cover your cabbage with a bucket or cloth covering.

Heave-ho the harvest. In just 10 to 12 weeks, you should have a huge head of cabbage you can be proud of – and provide you with lots of creamy coleslaw.

To see all the 2013 winners and learn more about the 2014 contest, visit

Kathy Van Mullekom is garden/home columnist for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. Follow Kathy at [email protected] Hogan Van Mullekom, [email protected] and [email protected]; her blog can be read at [email protected] Email her at:

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