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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Handling of Plants the Second Season. As soon as the ground can be prepared for planting in the spring, the stored plants should be removed from the trenches and set in the field in rows, similarly to the way they were set the first season. Any plants that have been injured in storage should be discarded. The plants should be set deeply in order that they will secure enough support from the ground to keep them upright before they have had a chance to send out new roots. Further along in the season, when the seed stalks have begun to grow, it may be necessary to support the plants by means of stakes, or to throw a small ridge of soil against them with a one-horse plow, in order to deep the heads upright.
The crop of seed plants is cultivated and tended in the same way as the crop for market. Usually, it is necessary to slash through the leaves on the top of the head in two directions.. This is particularly necessary in a compact head, because if left unslashed these upper leaves will offer too much resistance to the seed stalks when they begin to push through. A cross-section of a cabbage head showing the buds in the axils of the leaves is shown at a in Fig. 15. From these buds develop the seed stalks, and it can be readily seen that unless the leaves overhead are cut the resistance offered by them will be greater than many of the seed stalks will be able to overcome. A cabbage plant with the seed stalks fully developed is shown in Fig. 19.
The seed stalks should be cut when the seed are fully developed but before the seed pods burst or a serious loss of seed will result. The proper time for cutting the stalks will be shortly after the pods have turned yellow, which, in the latitude of New York City, will be about the first part of July. The stalks should then be thoroughly dried, by piling them in shallow windrows in the field. If the weather is favorable the process of drying will commonly take from 3 to 4 days, and sometimes may be accomplished in 2 days. If the stalks are dried in the field, great care must be exercised in hauling them into the barn or much of the seed may be lost. The bottom of the wagon should be covered with a heavy cloth, and, preferably, this cloth should be large enough to fold over the stalks after they have been placed in the wagon. The wagon should not be filled with any more stalks than it can easily carry without danger of any slipping off.
As soon as the stalks have been received at the barn the seed should be threshed out, cleaned, and dried before storing. The floor on which the threshing is done should not have any cracks in it, or considerable seed will be lost. A cloth covering over the threshing floor is advisable. The seed should be run through a fanning mill to clean it properly. When stored, the seed must be kept in a dry place or it will become moldy.
A good yield of cabbage seed is considered to be about 250 pounds per acre, although the average might be placed at 50 pounds or less. Exceptionally good yields as high as 800 pounds per acre have been secured. The yield of seed of good quality is variable. As much as 2 ounces of marketable seed has been obtained from the stalk of a single cabbage plant, but more commonly the stalks from twenty or more plants will be required to yield 1 pound of seed.
General Remarks on Cabbage Seed. None but the best cabbage seed should ever be used for planting. Any small saving that may be made in purchasing seed is almost invariably poor business, because the loss experienced at the other end of the crop counterbalances this many times over. No grower can afford to risk his crop for the saving of a few dollars in the cost of seed per acre; any person with such ideas of economy would do better not to attempt the crop at all. Good seed is seed that will produce heads of a marketable size quickly, that will produce heads of uniform size and appearance, and that will produce heads that will all mature so nearly together that not more than two cuttings will be required to harvest the entire crop. In addition to these qualities, the seed should also, of course, have a high germination test, though the possession of this latter character is not conclusive evidence of desirable seed, because a high germination test can often be secured with seed that does not possess the essential commercial qualities mentioned.
Usually only fresh cabbage seed should be sown, although cabbage seed is generally considered to have good germinating power at the end of 5 years and in some cases even at the end of 10 years. The use of cabbage seed 10 years old, however, would not be considered safe. Cabbage seed is small, and about 8,500 are required to make 1 ounce; 1 quart of cabbage seed will weigh a little more than 27 ounces.
Samples of cabbage seed are shown double natural size in fig. 20. Early Jersey Wakefield seed is shown in (a) and Danish Ball Head seed is shown in (b). Cabbage seedlings are shown natural size in Fig. 21.
The quantity of cabbage seed required to produce enough plants to set 1 acre depends to a considerable extent on the quality of the seed and the way in which it is handled. Usually, 1 ounce of good cabbage seed can be depended on to produce about 3,000 plants or to be sufficient to sow about 300 feet of drill with a seed sower.
When early cabbage is planted it is customary to figure that about 12,000 plants should be produced to secure enough good plants to set from 10,000 to 11,500 plants per acre, and hence this will require from 4 to 6 ounces of seed. When the larger and later varieties of cabbage are grown from 7,500 to 8,000 are usually required to secure enough plants to make a setting of 7,260 plants per acre, and 2 to 3 ounces of seed should be sufficient.
PLANT PRODUCTION AND MARKETING
Cabbage plants are grown more extensively than the plants of any other vegetable, with the possible exception of the tomato. The young cabbage plant is hardy, will withstand rough handling, will carry well in long-distance shipments, and can be cheaply grown with little risk. The seed will take from 5 to 10 days to germinate, usually about 8 days, and the rate of the subsequent growth will depend largely on the management. Commonly from 6 to 8 weeks will be required to produce plants of the size required for field setting.
The time of year for sowing cabbage seed will depend on the locality. In the South Central States, cabbage plants are set in the field in the fall and wintered over in the open, as described elsewhere, and hence the seed for the production of the plants must be sown in the fall. In the northern sections of the country the seed for the early crop of cabbage is usually sown in frames from January 1 to March 1, depending on the ideas of the grower and the conditions under which he works. When several hundred thousand plants are to be raised, successive sowings a few days or a week apart should be made so that the plants will not become leggy or spindling before they can be transplanted. In the North, the seed for the late crop of cabbage is usually sown during May, but is sometimes sown about June 1 or a little later. The seed of some of the varieties, such as Danish Ball Head, that mature very late, should be sown not later than the middle of May.
Most growers prefer to start cabbage plants as early as possible for two reasons: (1) Early started cabbage plants will be well under way before other vegetable plants need to be started, and labor will thus be economized; and (2) young cabbage plants, contrary to the general rule for other vegetable seedlings, are little harmed by a severe check in their growth, and may be well hardened in the seed bed so that bad weather in the field will not be a serious drawback and the cutworms will be less destructive.
The location of the seed-bed for cabbage will vary with the climate and the time of year in which the plants are grown. In the South, all cabbage plants, and in the North, the late plants can be grown outdoors, but in very cold localities the early plants must be grown in hotbeds, or where the weather is only moderately cold they may be grown possibly in cold frames. The directions for growing plants are given for those grown in the hotbed, but, with the exception of the details on temperature regulation, the methods of growing the plants out of doors are the same.
The soil in the seed-bed should not be overly rich, that is, so rich that a soft growth of plant will be fostered, but the soil should be in the best of physical condition and should be well supplied with humus.
In a hotbed, the degree of heat that will be required for cabbage plants will naturally vary with the time the seed is planted and the climatic conditions of the locality. On account of their hardy nature, cabbage plants will get along with much less heat than almost any other plant that is grown in the hotbed. Usually, about 12 inches of good hotbed manure, properly put into the frames as early as the first part of February, should produce sufficient heat to carry cabbage plants through to the time of field setting. If the seed is to be sown in January, possibly a few inches more of manure would sometimes be required. In a greenhouse, the matter of temperature regulation will be much simplified.
In a hotbed, cabbage seed should be sown in drills 1 to 2 inches apart and covered about 1/8 inch deep, or practically twice the diameter of the seed. The seed should be scattered in the drills about eight to twelve to the inch, and if the seed is of good quality most of it will germinate and produce seedlings.
Although the cabbage plants need some artificial heat in a cold climate, they should not be given too much heat. At night the temperature in a hotbed or in a greenhouse should be about 40 degrees F., and not much above this point. During the day (this means in the shade or on a cloudy day) the temperature should average about 60 degrees F. Temperatures above 60 degrees F. in a hotbed or greenhouse for any length of time, unless the plants are in the bright sunshine, will tend to produce an excessive leaf growth at the expense of the roots, and result in the production of poor plants.
When the cabbage plants in the seed-bed are from 2 to 3 weeks old they should preferably be transplanted (although frequently this is not done) for two reasons: (1) Transplanted plants have more room to develop than they would normally have in their original places, and this produces strong, stocky plants; if the plants are allowed to crowd in the seed-bed they are likely to become spindling and weak; (2) the root system of the plant is stimulated to make a greater development and to grow more compactly, because the long roots are broken in transplanting, their terminal growth is checked, and smaller side roots are thrown out; a plant of this kind does better after transplanting to the field than one with long roots.
The transplanting is done as follows: The soil underneath the plants is loosened with a trowel, with a stick, or with the fingers and the plants are carefully separated from the earth and from each other; care must be taken to see that the root systems are injured as little as possible. These plants are then set in another hotbed or in another section of the same hotbed. In their new location they are spaced from 1 to ½ inches apart and are set a little deeper in the soil than they stood in the first seed-bed. The transplanted seedlings should be well watered and should be shaded with a cloth screen for a couple of days until they catch hold, or become well established. The seedlings that can be grown under one hotbed sash should furnish enough plants when transplanted at the distances previously given to fill from twelve to eighteen sash. Hence, when this method of transplanting is followed, heat need be applied to only one or a few of the hotbeds early in the season, and the others supplied with manure just before transplanting time.
When the cabbage plants have grown to about the size wanted for field setting, the hardening-off process should be commenced; preferably this should be from 1 to 3 weeks before the time for field setting. The plants will commonly be ready for hardening off when they have three or four pairs of well-developed leaves, as shown in fig. 22. The process of hardening off cabbage plants has been discussed in Hotbeds, Cold Frames and Propagating Greenhouses; it consists merely in gradually accustoming the young plants to outdoor conditions before they are transplanted to the field so that they will stand the shock of transplanting better.
Growing of Cabbage Plant in Flats. The growing of cabbage plants in flats, or boxes, has a number of advantages over growing them in the soil of a hotbed, among which the following are the most important: (1) The seeding and transplanting can be done in a sheltered and convenient building and the flats afterwards taken to the hotbeds or greenhouse; (2) less soil needs to be handled in taking care of a given number of hotbeds; (3) the boxes can easily be lifted from one place to another, as from a permanent frame to a temporary one; (4) when the plants are to be sold in a local market the flat serves as a convenient market package and the plants keep better in it than when taken from the ground and sold loose; (5) when the plants are to be shipped they will stand handling better after being grown in a flat, as the root system will be more compact, and the same thing will also be true when the plants are to be set in the field; (6) if the plants are in a hotbed that is generating too much heat, the plants in the flats may be readily shifted to a cooler frame and plants needing the heat more may be put in the warmer frame – when plants are to be hardened off this is sometimes a big advantage; (7) large quantities of cabbage plants are now grown for sale, and for this purpose the plants grown in flats are usually considered to be the most satisfactory. The market for cabbage plants is very large.
When cabbage plants are to be grown in flats, the hotbed is prepared somewhat differently than when they are to be grown in the soil of the hotbed itself. The soil on top of the manure is usually not made so deep when the flats are used, although the use of some soil on the manure is always advisable. About 2 inches of soil above the manure will be found to be sufficient; this will make the cabbage plants just about as far away from the glass as they would be in a common hotbed where they were sown in the soil of the bed.
The flats used should be about 2 ½ inches deep, or a little more, and the other dimensions may be modified to suit individual ideas. For convenience in handling, a flat 12 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 2 ½ inches deep, inside measurement, is a good size; it should be made of ¼ inch lumber. About 500 seedling plants can be produced in a box of this size. Drainage should be provided in the bottom by boring ½ inch holes at intervals of 6 inches, or by leaving 1/8 – inch cracks between the boards in the bottom. A flat, or box, of this kind will vary in cost from 4 to 10 cents according to the number of flats made, the quantity of the lumber used, and the cost of the lumber in different localities. A method of making flats cheaply from odd-sized boxes has been previously described.
A flat for cabbage plant should be filled with well-composted soil, preferably with soil that has been composted the previous season and has been brought to a good physical condition. This soil should be well worked over and made uniform in character before it is placed in the flats. The soil should be firmed evenly in the flat, drills should be made for the seed, and the seed planted in about the same manner as it is planted in the hotbed soil. The work of planting should preferably be done in a warm room, and not out in the open where it is cold and the wind will be likely to dry out the soil. As soon as the seed is planted, it should be covered slightly by sifting a small quantity of soil through a screen over it. This sifted soil should be firmed down, and the flat then removed to the hotbed where the plants are to be grown.
In the hotbed, the cabbage plants in flats need slightly different treatment than cabbage plants in the soil of the bed. For the first few days the temperature at night should be kept up to about 50 degrees F., and during the day from 10 degrees to 20 degrees F. higher; these temperatures should be maintained until the seedlings appear in 8 days or so, when the temperatures previously recommended for plants in the hotbed soil should be kept up. Care should be taken to see that the soil in the flats does not become dried; watering must be frequent, but it must also be carefully done, or the seed may be washed out; the soil in flats will dry out much more rapidly than soil in a hotbed.
When cabbage plants are grown in flats a few simple tools will aid in the work of transplanting. A piece of lath about 15 inches long, as shown at c, fig. 25, is useful for scraping the extra soil from the flat after filling so that the top of the soil will be level.
A block for firming the soil in the flats, as shown in fig. 23 (a), will save considerable work and may be considered essential. If flats 12 in. x 10 in. x 2 ½ in. are used, the block should be 13 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 3 inches deep, with the ends slightly rabbeted about ¼ inch, so that the block will set on the flat lengthwise and will press the soil down to ¼ inch below the top edges of the flat. Applying pressure with a block of this kind will make the soil in the flats uniformly compact and leave it with a smooth surface.
A furrow marker, such as shown in Fig. 23 (b), will be needed to aid in sowing the seed. This may be made by cutting apiece of ¼ – inch board 1 ½ inches wide and 14 inches long, rabbeting it 1 inch from each end and ½ inch deep, as shown at a, and beveling the lower part to a sharp edge at the center as shown at b. A furrow marker made in this way will fit lengthwise in a flat and when pressed down will sink about ¼ inch into the soil that has been previously firmed by the block shown in (a).
A regular system should be adopted for planting the seed, for labeling the different varieties in flats, and for caring for the plants. In the flats the drills should be made about 1 inch apart, and to insure a good stand the seed should be made about 1 inch apart, and to insure a good stand the seed should be sown as thick as it is in the hotbed. The plants should remain in the flats for from 10 days to 3 weeks, depending on the growth they make, but should be removed before crowding tends to make the stems lengthen. After the seed is sown the flats are set in the frames in which the manure is covered with 2 inches of soil. The method of management for the plants in flats in the frame is the same as when the plants are set in the seed-bed in a frame, except for the difference in temperature regulation as described elsewhere.
When transplanting time comes the plants should be set in larger boxes of uniform size; a convenient size is about 15 inches long, 12 inches wide and 2 ½ inches deep. The transplanting should be done in a shed or room where the temperature is not below 40 degrees F. A bench of convenient height, a liberal supply of flats, and sufficient composted soil should be provided before the work is begun. The transplanting room should be at a convenient distance from the hotbed frames so that the flats will not have to be carried back and forth any greater distance than is absolutely necessary.
The composting of soil for use in flats for the production of cabbage plants should be begun early in the summer preceding the winter when the composted soil is to be used. One of the best mixtures for such a compost is about 2 parts of a good medium friable sandy loam soil, 1 part of sod, and 1 part of good stable manure, preferably fine manure. These materials should be laid down in alternate layers of a few inches each in a long oblong-shaped pile, as shown in fig. 24; many growers prefer to make the lower layer of soil, the second layer of sod, and the third layer of manure, and then after the pile has reached a convenient height of 3 or 3 ½ feet to cover over the top layer of manure with an extra layer of soil.
After being made up, a pile of this kind should be left untouched for about 6 weeks during the summer, in order to allow the sod and manure to decay fairly well. At the end of this time the pile should be cut off cleanly in thin slices with a sharp spade and well worked end over end, until it assumes a fairly uniform appearance; if the layers have been made of a regular thickness, this working over should very evenly mix the whole mass. As the working over is completed, the compost should be put up in another pile similar to the first; except that it is not layered, and allowed to remain in this second pile for another 6 weeks or so.
At the end of this second 6 weeks the pile should again be cut down, worked over by giving it a good forking so as to air the mass well, and piled again. Before cold weather sets in this compost should preferably be stored under cover where it is to be used, or a least in some place where it will be protected from the frost.
When this compost is used for filling flats in which seeds are to be germinated it should be mixed with clean sand in the proportion of 3 parts of the compost to 1 part of the sand, and after the seed is sown it should be covered with clean fine sand.
The operation of transplanting cabbage plants into other flats can be economically accomplished in the following way: A flat with the cabbage plants in drills in it should be placed to one side but within easy reach of the operator, and a number of the larger flats that have been previously filled with the straight compost – that is, the compost without the addition of the 25 percent of sand that was added to the compost in the flats in which the seed were germinated – should be placed within convenient reach on the other side. A transplanting bench arranged in this way is shown in Fig. 25, with the flat full of young cabbage seedlings at a and the larger flats filled with compost at b. The smoothing-off lath is shown at c, the marker at d, a dibble at e, and the firming block at f.
One of the boxes b is brought in front of the operator and the soil properly smoothed off and firmed. Twenty to thirty small cabbage seedlings are taken from the box a, by loosening them carefully from the bottom and not by grasping the leaves with the fingers and pulling them out. These seedlings are gently shaken to separate them, and they are then laid at the left of the box in which they are to be transplanted.
A small round dibble or a piece of a rake handle about 3 ½ inches long and tapered to a point at one end is taken in the right hand and used for making holes in the soil of the flat for the plants. One of the plants is picked up by grasping one of its seed leaves between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand and the root is slipped down in the hole made by the dibble. If the plant is well-proportioned, it should be set as deep as it grew in the first flat, but if it is too long, it should be set deeper than it stood in the original box, or so that the stems of the seed leaves – those lowest down – should be about 1 inch above the soil. As soon as the root, and sometimes part of the stem are in the hole, the earth should be pressed against the stem and root by one motion of the dibble, by simply placing the dibble in the soil a little to one side of the plant and pressing the soil toward the plant. A well-set cabbage plant cannot be pulled out without breaking off the root.
The seedlings may be transplanted at distances between 1 and 1 ½ inches apart each way, as previously described, but when the plants are to be sold in the boxes the plants should preferably be set 1 ¼ inches apart. If flats 15 in. x 12 in. x 2 ½ in. are used for the transplanting, nine plants can be set one way and twelve the other way, making a total of 108 plants to the box, which is usually sold as containing 100 plants.
As soon as all the seedlings a flat will hold has been set in it, the flat should be shaken sidewise sufficiently to fill up the holes and give the surface of the soil in the box a smooth appearance, but not vigorously enough to loosen the soil.
Uniformity of setting is, of course, necessary both for the best development of the plants are being raised for sale. When the method of setting previously described is followed, careless work will sometimes result in uneven spacing of the plants, and to overcome this disadvantage, many growers prefer to use a planting board. Such a board over a flat is shown in fig. 26. This is made to fit snugly over the outside edges of the flat and is 15 inches long inside of the cleats and 12 inches wide inside of the cleats b. It may be made of any dimensions required. The board is usually made of one piece of wood, preferably of hardwood, about ½ to 5/8 inch thick. Holes about ½ inch in diameter or a little larger are bored at the required distances, the centers usually being about 1 ¼ inches apart; the upper edges of the holes should be beveled to receive the dibble more readily. This board is laid on the edges of the flat that is ready to be set with plants and the special-shaped dibble pushed through each of the 108 holes. The board is then removed and a plant set at each mark. In some instances, a dibbling machine is used for marking the soil for plant setting. This machine will make as many as 150 holes at one operation and is economical of labor when large numbers of flats are to be marked, although few such machines are in use.
When the plants are ready for transplanting in the field the plants should be carefully removed from the flats with as large a ball of the compost as is possible. A young cabbage plant ready for setting in the field and with a good ball of earth attached is shown in fig. 22. To succeed in taking plants out of the flats in this condition, the entire block of soil in the flat must first be well loosened. To do this, first one end of the flat should be knocked on the ground until the soil moves away from the upper end, and then reversed and knocked on the other end until the soil slips down, leaving a space at that end. Then the sides of the boxes should be tapped on the ground in the same way. This will usually thoroughly loosen the whole mass of earth in the flat, and then with a little toss the entire contents can be removed and dropped on the ground with the plants upwards; after a little experience this method of taking the plants, soil and all, from a flat can be done rapidly and without injury. Once the contents of a flat are on the ground the plants can be readily separated from the others and picked up with a good-sized ball of earth attached.
MARKETING OF PLANTS
Although cabbage plants will stand long-distance shipment well, they should be well packed. The reputation of a cabbage-plant grower is dependent, of course, on the results secured from his plants, and, other things being equal, the better the plants are packed for shipment the better they will do in the field after they are set out. The cabbage plants should be lifted from the soil in which they are growing with practically all of their roots attached, and packed with the roots downwards in damp Sphagnum moss. They should be crowded tightly together in the box so that they will not shift in handling, but not tightly enough to crush the leaves. They should be packed in crates only one layer deep in order to avoid any danger of their heating up, and the boxes should be left partly open.