This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
These are distinct classes and species of cabbage, intermediate in character between the more common sorts and the more distant kales. They have never become generally popular in America, though they are rather largely grown and used by the Asiatics, particularly on the Pacific coast. The sea-kale cabbage is not to be confounded with sea-kale, which is a very different plant.
These are but a few of the almost limitless, more or less distinct variations offered by seedsmen, yet each of them was thought by someone to be superior in some location, under some conditions, or for some purpose. The general recognition of the value of each variation, and the consequent popularity of the sorts in which the variation is best developed, are constantly changing, partly because of local conditions of climate, but more largely because of changes in transportation and market facilities and conditions.
Ideal climatic conditions are found only in very limited areas, and the common cultural practice in each locality is largely shaped by the degree to which local conditions approach them. In the country north of Washington in which a well-lighted and heated greenhouse and experienced help are available, the simplest method, and one by which the very best of early cabbage can be grown, is to plant the seed in flats some sixty to ninety days before danger of killing by frost is past, and as soon as the central bud or leaves appear (which should be in ten to fourteen days) to "prick out" the plants, setting them 2 to 4 inches apart in other flats, according to the relative importance in that particular culture of earliness and cost of production. The house should be given abundant ventilation, and temperatures exceeding 70° or 85° by day and 50° or 60° at night carefully avoided. Often it will be found very advantageous, as soon as the plants are well established, to remove them to well-lighted coldframes. These should be carefully tended in order to give all the air possible, and to avoid over-heating by the sun or falling below 35° at night, and the plants transferred to the open ground as early as this can be done without danger from killing frosts.
Some very successful growers plant seed in well-protected cold-frames so as to secure a thin, even stand, and by careful attention secure a slow but steady growth through the winter, and the seedlings are first transplanted to the open ground as soon as danger from killing frosts is over. A common practice from Philadelphia or Baltimore southward is to sow the seed in the fall in carefully prepared beds in sheltered locations, and, as soon as the plants are large enough, to transplant them to flat-topped ridges about 30 to 36 inches from center to center and as high as can be formed by two or three back-furrows. These ridges usually are run east to west and the plants are set on the south, the north or the top, or sometimes in the furrow between them, depending upon the judgment of the planter as to which location will give the best result on that particular farm and exposure and in that particular season, as sometimes one and sometimes another location gives the best results. In some sections and often only on certain farms of a section this method gives large very early-maturing and profitable crops, while in different fields, even on the same farm, a large proportion of the plants so handled will be killed by frost or will shoot to seed without heading.
In certain locations, notably in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, cabbage-plant farms have been established, from which plants in prime condition for setting in the field can be secured by the million. The location and exposure, and the character of the soil of the most successful of these farms is such that the plants are rarely killed or seriously checked by frost, but make a constant but slow growth all winter and can be pulled at any time so as to retain abundant root and vigor and be safely shipped long distances. The seed is sown and the plant-beds treated much as one would treat a bed of onions for sets or pickles, except that in many cases the rows are as close as 3 inches and the bed receives little or no cultivation after the seed is planted.
Objections that are sometimes well founded to plants from such farms are, that they are slow "taking hold" and a large proportion of them "shoot to seed" without heading, or the heads are small and of poor quality; but such failures often come from the use by the plant-raiser of cheap and inferior seed, or from the crowded rows and careless handling, or from the farmer sending for and setting the plants too early, or from holding them too long before setting. Some plant-raisers take pains to advertise that they do not guarantee plants shipped by them before December 1 to give satisfactory results (though they often do), but that they are willing to guarantee that plants shipped by them from December 1 to April 1 will, in suitable soil and exposure and with good cultivation, produce full crops of marketable cabbage. Most farmers who use 20,000 to 30,000 plants could grow on their own farms as good plants or better than they could buy from even the best and most reliable growers, and often at materially less cost; but it is questionable whether many of them would do so, and it is not surprising that the practice of buying plants, particularly when earliness in market maturity is desirable, is rapidly extending.
Fig. 707. Cabbage shapes: Flat; round or ball; egg-shaped; oval; conical.
The best distance between plants will depend not only upon the variety used but upon the character of the soil, kind of labor available and the condition and way in which the crop is to be marketed. Such small upright-growing sorts as Early York, Etampes, or true Jersey Wakefield, which are to be marketed when still quite soft, can be well grown set as close as 6 or 8 by 18 to 24 inches, requiring 20,000 to 30,000 plants to the acre; but in America such close planting necessitates so much hand labor that it is seldom profitable, and 8 to 12 by 28 to 30 or 36 inches, requiring from 8,000 to 15,000 or 20,000 plants to the acre, is usually found the more profitable distance.