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 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.