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Cabbage

Prepared in 1913 by the International Textbook Company and revised in 1930 by S. W. Shoemaker. Nominally edited in 2009 for inclusion in the Summer ’09 issue of Small Farmer’s Journal.

Cabbage

Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

Influence of climate on Cabbage. Climate conditions have a marked influence on the culture of cabbage, and determine to a large extent the kind of crop that may be grown in any locality. The cabbage plant thrives best in a cool, moist climate, although its hardy nature enables it to grow with some degree of success under widely varying climatic conditions. Because of the influence of climatic conditions, the great bulk of the cabbage crop is produced in the Northern States, along the Great Lakes, and in New England; the crop raised in the South is largely a truck crop, and is grown during the late part of the winter and the early part of spring when the weather is most congenial. Altitude also has an important influence on the growth of cabbage. In the south, cabbage is seldom successful on lowland except during the winter or early spring months, although it may be grown during the summer in the mountainous regions.

The susceptibility of different varieties to different climatic conditions is also an important point to consider. The earlier varieties of cabbage, and the flat Dutch types, may be grown successfully in the South at the proper season, but the varieties of the Danish Ball Head class will seldom do well south of the 40th parallel of latitude or on low land.

The remarks just made should not be taken to mean that the cabbage is a delicate plant, for it is not. It is, in fact, one of the hardiest of the vegetables. In mild winters, such as are found along the Atlantic seaboard south of Baltimore, cabbage can be successfully grown from seed planted in September and transplanted in the open field in December. When transplanted in the open under such conditions, however, it is usually planted so as to be protected from the frost and from the prevailing winds; the details of this are described later.

Under good management 10,000 marketable heads of early cabbage should be secured from a planting of 11,500, and about 7,000 marketable heads of late cabbage from a planting of about 7,260 (some varieties of late cabbage will not yield more than 5,000 heads per acre.)

Cabbage

Soils. Cabbage is grown on a great variety of soils. Profitable crops can be produced on a great many that are properly enriched and managed. Cabbage is one of the heaviest feeders among the vegetable crops and, to make a quick growth, requires its food in a highly available form. A rich, medium sandy loam is generally considered to be the best soil for cabbage. This soil should be well filled with humus. Because of the high humus content, cabbage will do well on newly plowed grass land. A continuous supply of moisture is essential.

When cabbage is raised as a truck crop, the soil that will mature a crop the quickest is naturally preferable. Hence, along the Atlantic seaboard, the sandy soils like the Norfolk sandy loam are largely used for the early cabbage crop. Such soils are not retentive enough of moisture to produce the best results on a crop of late cabbage, but they are mainly popular because they can be worked much earlier in the spring than a heavier soil, and will bring a crop to a quick maturity.

VARIETIES OF CABBAGE AND SEED

PRODUCTION VARIETIES

Three distinct types of cabbage are grown, the distinguishing features being the shape and the time required to reach maturity. The three types are: (1) the first early, also known as peaks, or pointed cabbage; (2) the second early, or Flat Dutch, or drumhead type of cabbage; (3) the late, or winter, varieties, which are principally round cabbage.

To secure the best results in the culture of cabbage, an intimate knowledge of varieties is essential. Important differences in the characteristics of varieties are often overlooked, even by those who have had considerable experience in the business, and much loss is thereby incurred. The following are some of the more important points to bear in mind: (1) A succession of plants does not necessarily mean a proper succession of marketable cabbages, because there is a difference of about 6 weeks in the time required for the different varieties to reach maturity from seed sown at the same time. (2) Each of the three main classes of cabbage includes many varieties, but of these very few are standard; these standard varieties, however, are very important, and their main characteristics should be familiar to every grower. (3) Each variety of cabbage includes many strains, due to the production of seeds by different individuals, more or less careful and skillful in their selection of seed stock, and naturally the strains vary considerably with the individual conception of this ideal of the variety.

Cabbage

Of the first early, or peak, class of cabbage, the two best commercial standard varieties are the Early Jersey Wakefield and the Charlestown Wakefield, both of which have been developed from the same original source. The Early Jersey Wakefield will, on an average, mature from 1 week to 10 days earlier than the Charlestown Wakefield, and will weigh from 2 to 3 pounds less per head. These differences of date of maturity and size are the main differences between the varieties. Of each of these varieties, however, there are now several strains, and careful experiment has indicated that the differences between these strains are as marked as the differences between some varieties. Yet, in spite of this fact the strains of each variety are all sold under the variety name.

Cabbage

The Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, illustrated in fig. 1, is the quickest maturing standard variety of cabbage known, and the heads should reach marketable sizes in from 70 to 80 days. This variety is very extensively planted for the first early market garden crop. It is very hardy, a rapid grower, and the heads are compact and not very leafy and thus allow close planting; the leaves are a medium to light green in color and form a very solid head that measures about 9 inches from the peak, or top, to the base, and about 5 inches through its thickest portion; the midribs of the leaves are only moderately large; and the quality of the vegetable is good. A good head weighs from 2 to 3 pounds. The plants may be set as close as 18 inches by 28 inches.

Cabbage

The Charlestown Wakefield cabbage, illustrated in Fig. 3, is sometimes called a second early variety. It was produced from the same strain as the Early Jersey Wakefield by the selection of plants which grew larger, more solid heads that were no longer than the Early Jersey Wakefield, but that were broader at the base. As it is obviously impossible to grow 5 pounds of plant tissue, the weight of an average head of this variety, as quickly as 3 pounds, this increase in the size of the heads meant a decrease in the earliness of maturity. This variety is fairly well fixed in its type, but strain variations do exist. A standard strain of the Charlestown Wakefield will produce plants with much the same color of leaf, type of growth, and excellence of quality as its earlier sister variety, the Early Jersey Wakefield; it requires 6 inches more space each way in the field, takes from 1 week to 10 days longer to develop to marketable size, and will usually produce a somewhat larger crop than the Early Jersey Wakefield. The Charlestown Wakefield is more popular among truckers than the Early Jersey Wakefield and is consequently more extensively planted. The bulk of the early cabbage crop shipped from the trucking states on the Atlantic seaboard to the northern markets is of this variety.

The Copenhagen cabbage, introduced to the trade generally in 1913, is one of the promising, newer, round-headed, very early varieties, that resembles the Danish Ball Head or the Volga in shape, but that is smaller and much earlier to mature. The average weight of the heads is from 5 to 6 pounds. The plants should be set at least 18 inches by 28 inches and at even greater distances on land that is not well supplied with plant-food.

The second early, Flat Dutch, or Drumhead, cabbages are typically flat on top, but in the different varieties of this class there is every gradation between the peak and the flat heads. A head of a typical variety of this class will measure nearly twice as much on the horizontal diameter as it will on the diameter from stem to top. In this class of cabbages there are more varieties than in both the early and late varieties taken together. Some of the Drumheads are winter sorts, but they do not possess the keeping qualities of the round type of cabbage. In fact, this class of cabbages contains so many varieties that it is often regrouped into early, mid-season, and late varieties. The number of varietal names in each of these subgroups is large, because each of a number of seedsmen have put out seed of the same varieties under their firm name; hence, there are not as many different varieties as is apparently the case, though the number of different strains of the same variety is certainly large; this practice of putting out seed of the same variety under different firm names may have advantages, but it is confusing to the grower.

The principal commercial cabbages of the Drumhead are those that are the earliest maturing, such as the Early Spring, the Early Summer, and the All Head.

The Early Spring cabbage, a head of which is shown in Fig. 4, is typical of the Drumhead group, and is a good variety to follow Charlestown Wakefield. It is generally regarded as the earliest and best variety of its class, and many markets prefer this to the slightly earlier peak cabbage. From the grower’s point of view this variety is preferable in one important point to the peak cabbage, because the outer leaves do not become readily loosened by rough handling. It has the disadvantage, however, of being about 10 to 14 days later than the Charlestown Wakefield. The heads are firm, of good quality, and large for an early cabbage, having an average weight of 6 to 8 pounds. This variety should be planted in rows about 36 inches apart, and the plants spaced 24 inches apart in the row in order to allow for the full development of the heads.

The Early Summer cabbage, a head of which is shown in Fig. 5, comes to maturity about 1 week later than the Early Spring. It is of practically the same type as the Early Spring and these two varieties probably came from the same original stock, but were selected by different persons. The heads of this variety are about one-third larger than the heads of the Early Spring; the heads are firm and solid. This variety is considered to be one of the most valuable of the mid-season varieties.

Cabbage

The All Head cabbage is a standard variety of the Flat Dutch type. The heads of this variety are not as flat as those of the Early Spring and the Early Summer, but they are deeper, grow very compactly, and are very satisfactory.

Cabbage

The variety of cabbage commonly known as the Flat Dutch, shown in Fig. 6, of which there are many strains, is a moderately long-season variety. The head is very solid and flat; it measures about 12 inches across and 8 inches deep, and weighs from 8 to 12 pounds. The size and solidity of the heads will depend a good deal on the strain and on the conditions under which the heads are produced. The earliness or lateness of maturity of the head of this variety depends on the time of planting the seed; the heads will mature, in the latitude of New York, from August 15 to October 1, according to the date when the seed was planted. The Flat Dutch cabbage should be planted 30 inches by 42 inches.

Cabbage

The Volga cabbage has gained much in favor of late years. It is a round, hard-headed variety of fairly good quality, of about the same season as Flat Dutch, and develops heads weighing from 8 to 12 pounds. This variety is apparently considerably affected by the soil texture on which it is grown, as it does splendidly on some farms and poorly on others. Its possibilities on any farm can be determined only by a trial. This variety should be planted 30 inches by 42 inches.

Cabbage

The late, or winter, varieties of cabbage that comprise the third of the main groups are usually of the round type, are of medium size, grow very hard heads, are excellent keepers, but are not of as good quality as the Flat Dutch.

Cabbage

The Danish Ball Head, or Danish Stone Head, cabbage, a head of which is shown in Fig. 7, is the most important of the late or winter varieties; it is the standard variety that is raised for winter storage in many of the extensive cabbage-producing sections. This variety, as its name indicates, produces a round head and an exceedingly hard one. The heads average from 7 to 10 pounds in weight, are of fair quality, and are splendid keepers. The plants grow vigorously and have a moderately abundant foliage. They may be set 24 inches by 36 inches.

The Danish Round Head is one of the strains of the Danish Ball Head that matures it heads about 2 weeks earlier than the other variety and that is therefore valuable when the planting of late cabbage has been delayed.

The Late Drumhead and the Autumn King are other varieties of the same group.

The American Savoy cabbage, a typical head of which is shown in Fig. 8, is the standard variety of Savoy cabbage in this country. The plant is a moderately large grower, and forms a head that will average from 6 to 10 pounds in weight. The leaves are of a dark-green color and have the heavily blistered characteristic appearance of cabbage of this kind. The American Savoy should be planted 30 inches by 42 inches.

The Savoy cabbage is very distinct in appearance from the other types of cabbage, and is easily recognized by the blistered appearance of the leaves. The leaves are usually of a much darker green than other cabbage, and because of the character of the leaves the heads are not as hard as those of most other varieties. The Savoy cabbage is more particular about the soil conditions in which it is grown and the fertilization and culture it receives than other varieties, and is more likely to yield a considerably smaller crop. The market demand for this cabbage is limited, although it seems to merit greater popularity than it has so far received. This cabbage is very hardy and can be wintered in the field in the latitude of New York. It is distinctly a late cabbage and does not do well in the heat of summer.

The Mammoth Red Rock cabbage is the standard variety of red cabbage grown, and is grown largely for pickling. A well developed head of this cabbage is shown in fig. 9; the top view of a head with the rough outside leaves stripped off is shown in Fig. 10 (a); a bottom view of the same head is shown in (b). This plant grows to a size about as large as the Danish Ball Head and is very similar in the type of growth and general characteristics. This cabbage may be planted 24 inches by 36 inches.

The Red Drumhead cabbage, shown in Fig. 11, is a valuable member of the red cabbages, and is often considered to be a strain of the Large Red Dutch.

SEED PRODUCTION

On an average, it is usually much cheaper to buy cabbage seed, if a good strain can be secured, than to attempt to grow the seed on a small scale. The seed can be produced to best advantage only where the plants thrive best, such as they do on Long Island, New York, where the bulk of the cabbage seed of the country is produced. The production of cabbage seed is attended with considerable risk in most localities, and the failure of a crop of seed may put a grower in an awkward position, by forcing him to buy seed from an unknown source.

As in the production of beet seed, two seasons of growth are required to produce cabbage seed. The plants produced the first year must be pulled up, roots and all, and stored over winter, replanted in the spring, and cultivated until the seeds ripen. Two important points must be borne in mind in producing cabbage seed: (1) The seed selected for planting at the start must be of the finest quality and of a strain that is as nearly as possible of the desired type. (2) The plants from which seed is to be taken for planting must be rigorously selected, or rogued, and none but those that come most closely to the required type should even be considered. To succeed in this selection, a grower must have a clear idea of the type he wishes to perpetuate, and must have the courage to carry out his plan of selection even if this means the discarding of nine-tenths or more of all the plants grown.

The seed for the production of seed-bearing plants is not planted as early as that for the crop for market. The plan is to plant the seed at such a time that the seed cabbages will be fully developed late in the fall at the time when they can best be pulled and stored for the winter. The results are not so good if the plants come to maturity too early in the fall. In the latitude of New York City, which will, of course, include Long Island, the seed for the late varieties of seed cabbage are sown about the middle of June, while the seed for the production of the early type of seed cabbage are sown about the middle of June, while the seed for the production of the early type of seed cabbage is not sown for about 6 weeks, or until August. Planting dates will vary from these dates according to the latitude.

Unlike the soil for the production of the crop for market, the soil for the growth of seed cabbages should not be overly rich. An excessively rich soil means the production of large heads, and these heads do not come through the winter storage so well as more moderate-sized heads. The cultivation and general care of the seed crop is the same as for the market crop.

Selection of Plants. The cabbage plants that are to be stored over winter for replanting in the spring should be selected as late in the fall as possible without danger of allowing the heads to become injured by the weather. This should be done at least before the ground freezes. This selection is perhaps the most important step in the work, for on it depends the future results. Only heads that are practically ideal for the variety should be stored for seed purposes, for it is only from the seed from such heads that ideal cabbages can be expected in the future. All heads in the seed plot not selected for planting the following spring can be sold to market.

Although the head is the marketable part of the cabbage and the only part that usually receives much notice from the grower in the selection of plants for the production of seed, other factors must also be taken into consideration, because the quality of the heads that will be produced in future generations are affected by them. In addition to the necessity for keeping the ideal type for the variety in mind, the character of the leaf, the character of the stem, the solidity of the head, and the health and vitality of the plant should receive careful consideration.

1. The best type of cabbage leaf is broad and nearly round, is somewhat spoon-shaped, and the upper edge of the leaf usually turns up. In other words, this kind of a cabbage leaf is of such a shape that it will snugly fit around a good, full-proportioned cabbage head. A leaf of this kind is shown in Fig. 12 (a). Conversely, an undesirable type of cabbage leaf is narrow, probably with a somewhat irregular outline, does not have the spoonlike formation to any marked degree, will usually stand out from the stalk at such an angle that it will fall away from the head somewhat, and the upper edge of the leaf will usually turn down. A leaf of this kind is shown in (b).

2. The type of stalk, or stem, to be preferred on a cabbage plant is shown in Fig 13 (a). As illustrated, this stalk is short, strong, and of an inverted cone shape, the thicker part being at the top where the leaves join it and the smaller part at the point where the stem enters the ground. The leaves spring out from such a stalk close together. In (b) is shown a stalk of an undesirable cabbage. The difference between this and the stalk shown in (a) is strikingly apparent. The poor stalk is too long, is practically cylindrical, that is, the part that enters the ground is fully as thick as the part from which the leaves come off from the stalk rather far apart. It usually happens that poorly-shaped leaves will be found on plants that have poorly-shaped stems.

A cabbage plant should not, however, be too quickly condemned for an apparently excessive length of stalk, because such a growth may sometimes be caused by setting the plants too closely together in the field. A stalk that has been made to grow too long because of overcrowding shown in (c), and on close examination it can readily be distinguished from the stalk of poor type shown in (b).

3. The solidity of the head in cabbage seed plants is of fundamental importance, and the first two factors mentioned are considered only because they have an effect on this factor of the solidity of the head. To understand why this is so, the habit of growth of the wild cabbage, from which the cultivated forms have been developed, must be borne in mind. The original wild cabbage is an open, loose-leaved kind of plant, such as shown in fig. 14, and is not at all like the heads shown in Fig. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Solid heads are the result of development and are far removed from the original form, and any tendency of a strain to form loose heads may be taken as a reversion toward the original and undesirable type. Hence, although the form of the head may vary in different varieties, no head can be considered to be satisfactory unless it is solid.

A cabbage head may be loose in one or all of three places: at the base, at the center, and near the top. The solidity of the head at the top or the bottom can be readily determined by pressing on the head at either of these points. Looseness at the top or in the center is a more serious defect than looseness at the bottom, because it indicates a more decided tendency to deteriorate to the original type. Heads that are loose will naturally weigh much less than solid heads of the same size. Ahead that is solid, particularly so at the base is shown in Fig. 15 (a); a head that is very loose at the base and fairly loose above that points is shown in (b); the buds that will produce seed stalks are shown at a.

The arrangement of the leaves that form the head of a cabbage is important as bearing on the factor of solidity. These leaves should overlap the center of the head, thus forming a thick, solid mat. Other things being equal, the farther the leaves lap beyond the central point the better the cabbage. Sometimes the upper leaves will not quite reach the center, but will leave a three-cornered open space in the top, as shown in Fig. 16. Seed from such a head will probably show rapid deterioration in later generations, and may even go so far as to produce an open, and worthless head such as that shown in Fig. 17. A head of cabbage in which the leaves properly overlap, and in which the head is perfectly solid, is shown in Fig. 6.

4. To be desirable for the production of seed, a cabbage plant must also be healthy and possess abundant vitality, for without these qualities no perfection of form will be of any value. As a general rule, however, plants lacking in vitality will seldom be of good form. Vitality is shown in a plant by the color of the leaves and the vigorous character of growth. Weak plants have leaves that appear glassy, pale and sickly. Lack of vitality in a parent plant usually means poor germinating power in the seed, and the production of plants in later generations that are not resistant to disease.

Winter Storage of Seed Cabbage. The plants should be properly stored over winter, and this means to store them in such a way that both the heads and the roots will be thoroughly protected. Two methods of storing the plants are commonly practiced. What is considered the cheaper method is to cover the heads in the row with earth so that from 6 to 8 inches of soil is above the top of each head. In the spring, the soil is removed from the plants, and growth proceeds. This method of handling the plants saves one transplanting, and on account of the lessened labor cost appeals to some growers. The fact that comparatively few heads may be left standing in a row after selection is a disadvantage of this method because much ground space is thus wasted during the second season of growth. Altogether, this method of wintering the plants over is not considered as satisfactory as storing them in a trench.

The method of storing seed cabbage plants in a trench is as follow: Before the ground is frozen, the plants are lifted from the soil with as large a ball of earth attached to the roots as is convenient to move. Trenches should be opened up in a well-drained soil that will be deep enough to allow several inches above the top of the plants after they are in it and wide enough to accommodate the heads of three plants. The plants should then be placed in the trenches three abreast and inclined at an angle of 45 degrees so that any water settling on the head through the soil will tend to run off and will not work down into the head where it may induce the development of rot. The plants should then be covered with 2 or 3 inches of soil. More should not be put on at this time unless the weather is cold, for a too thick layer of soil on top of the plants at first may result in injury from heating. After the plants have been in the trench several days the layer of soil above them should be increased to 6 inches. As soon as the ground has become frozen, a heavy mulch of some kind should be placed over the trenches. Stable manure to a depth of several inches is preferable if it can be obtained, but if not, a heavy coating of straw, marsh hay, etc. may be used. The colder the climate, the heavier should be the mulch. This mulch will tend to keep the ground that has already been frozen in a frozen condition, or from alternately freezing and thawing, and will tend to prevent the ground from freezing deeper.

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