This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol4", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
In following the cycle of the Cabbage year, it will, perhaps, be the more convenient to commence with the preparation for the autumn-planted, spring-gathered Cabbage. The preparation of the seed bed for this is perhaps one of the most anxious and important operations of the year. The weather in late summer is often so treacherous that a good Cabbage seed bed is sometimes the most eloquent testimony to the cultivator's skill, perseverance, and resource.
A very good plan is to keep some land, from which a crop has been gathered in June, fallow for the seed bed.
Fallow does not mean leaving the land a happy hunting ground for weeds. The object of the fallow is to conserve the moisture. This can only be done by persistently killing all weed growths as soon as they show themselves and before they can draw any moisture from the land. A Bentall's Scarifier, or a Martin's or other cultivator, or any broad share run lightly over the land, so as not to disturb the surface to a greater depth than 2 in., will accomplish all that is needed in two or three applications.
The last day of July or the first day of August is the time to sow the first season. Some growers commence sowing as soon as the middle of July is passed. The result is that their plants want moving long before it is time, or their land is ready, and when they are planted they are lean, lanky specimens, with a poor chance of weathering the frosts and snows of a hard winter. Unless, indeed, the soil of the seed bed is so poor that the plants cannot grow, then the early sowing will have less to condemn it, and the plants will be hard and woody.
Experience proves, however, that though plants off moderately poor land do better than those raised where richness has produced a soft, sappy growth, yet plants that are too much stunted are like cattle starved when young: they take a long while to come round. Another bad effect of sowing too early is that many of the plants bolt in the spring, and though the bolters can be pulled out and sold in the early weeks, the labour involved and the poor price received together constitute a severe penalty to pay for the early sowing. If the sowing is done broadcast, the seed should be distributed evenly and not so thickly but that there will be space enough for the plants to get to a decent size without drawing each other up. This practice, perhaps on account of the added difficulty of hoeing, is going out in many places in favour of drilling. Where this latter is the plan followed, the drills should be fairly close together and the seed not too thick in the rows. One sees sometimes a seed bed with the rows almost 1 ft. apart and the plants in the rows almost as thick as mustard and cress. What advantage there can be in such a method is difficult to see. Perhaps the only reason the grower himself could give is that one which ought surely soon to be heard less of in the agricultural world, viz.: "Because my father did before me ". Not that any of us should condemn the practical wisdom of our ancestors on the land. They managed in very many things - by the process of observation and the garnered store of experience, contributed to by generation after generation - to hit upon right methods, the reasons for which scientific investigation and inductive reasoning are only now discovering. What is to be condemned is the habit, so common, so indolent, and so pestilent, of doing things simply because they have been done before, without any independent enquiry for the why and the wherefore of them.
In a seed bed you want to raise the largest number of plants possible in a given area. True: but if in trying to do this you make one-half so drawn up as to be hardly worth planting, and the other half not worth pulling, what have you gained? Your wiser plan manifestly is to have your plants evenly distributed and not so thick anywhere but that they will be short and squat, and thus start off with more than a sporting chance that they will survive a stiff winter. The earliest pullings of plants are generally planted 12 in. by 12 in. to come for spring greens. After this some 15 in. by 12 in. may be planted to come a little later, many of which, if the right sort has been sown, should make spring Cabbages.
After this later plantings may be made at 18 in. by 15 in., and 20 in. by 16 in. for the main crop of summer Cabbage.
The best sorts for the August sowing are: Early Offenham, First and Best; Early Market, Meins No. 1; and for late plantings, Enfield Market.
For early autumn cutting in August and September a sowing of Nonpareil in March, to be transplanted in May, is useful. After this comes the Colewort season, called in the trade "Collards". Seed beds may be made in April or May for transplanting in June and July, or sowings in drills for a crop to stand after being singled during June. Judgment must be used for getting these crops out. Summers are often unreliable, and it is a difficult matter, with all that must be done during June and July, to make sure of the moisture, when there happens to be any, before it has dried up. It is no use getting winter Colewort crops out so that they all hearten in September. The grower wishes to arrange, if he can, so that they keep turning in all the winter, finishing up as greens just before spring. The Christmas Drumhead Cabbage, which was introduced a few years ago, is a most useful variant to the Colewort, and the cultivations for it are the same. [W. G. L].