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.
The best method of setting, whether by hand, hand-planters, or machine, will be determined by local conditions. The plants should "take hold" in two to four days and start into vigorous growth in ten days to three weeks, the time depending upon the condition of the plants, and the way they are handled, quite as much as upon the weather. After active growth has commenced, it should continue at a constantly accelerated rate until the head begins to harden, and although toward the last the plants may not seem to increase in size, the heads will gain in weight. The cabbage suffers less than most vegetables from mutilation of the root, yet deep cultivation is undesirable because unnecessary. The essential thing is to prevent any-crusting over, and the keeping of the surface in such good tilth as to permit of the free aeration of the soil.
One of the best crops of early cabbage on record was secured from what was regarded as naturally a rather unfavorable soil that was not very heavily fertilized, but received a shallow cultivation with a harrow tooth cultivator every day (except Sundays and on four days when the surface was so wet from rain that it would puddle) after the plants were set until the crop was in market condition.
The time of planting for fall and winter cabbage and the general cultural methods most likely to give good results in any particular location are the same for both seasons, the time of maturity being determined more by the varietal character of the seed than by method of culture. The cultural practice usually followed by neighboring and equally successful growers is often radically different One planter may always, on some fixed day in May or June, sow seed in flats and as soon as the seedlings are well started pick them out into other flats, and then again into a plant-bed and wait for a favorable day, if necessary until August, before putting them in the field. An equally successful neighboring grower may wait until as late as the last of June and sow thinly in well-prepared seed-beds and transplant from them to the field, while still another may wait for favorable weather even until the last of July and then plant seed in place as is the usual practice of some most successful growers. In New England, growers often drill the seed in place, and when the plants are well established chop out the superfluous ones.
Fig. 708. An outdoor method of storing cabbage.
The weight or quantity of seed used for a given area varies greatly, as the size of the individual seeds vary, not only with different varieties but with different lots of the same sort. Some growers expect to get plants enough for an acre from less than an ounce, while others require two to five times as much, and those who sow in place often will use four to eight ounces to the acre. Superlative crops have been known to be grown by radically different methods, and very often successful growers have some peculiarity of practice which they deem essential to the best results, but which a neighboring and equally successful grower regards as a foolish waste of labor; but, however the practice of successful growers may differ, there are some points in which they all agree. Among these are, the use of the best obtainable seed of some particular variety which they have found by experience, or which they believe is best adapted to their conditions and is uniform in time of maturity, so that all the heads are in prime condition and may be gathered at the same time, which is an important factor in determining cost of production, while uniformity in shape, form and color are equally important in determining salability.
The quality of the seed used, while not the only factor, is generally the most important one in determining the uniformity of product of any particular culture. Unchecked and constantly accelerated rate of growth are most important factors in securing the best possible development of any particular culture. Every check, whether it come from overcrowding of the seedlings, careless transplanting, or the caking and want of friability in the surface soil, tends to divert the energy of the plant from the unnatural and excessive leaf-formation upon which its value as a cultivated vegetable depends to the more natural but less useful formation of blossoms and seed. Just how on any particular farm the most favorable conditions can be secured cannot be told in general cultural directions, but must be decided by the grower from his knowledge of the character and wants of the plant, the condition of the soil, and last, but by no means least, his facilities for controlling the conditions upon which the growth of the crop depends.
This is the simplest and easiest part of cabbage-growing. With an easily acquired dexterity, each head in five or six rows can be cut, trimmed and tossed into a central windrow by a single well-directed stroke of a well-sharpened spade or heavy hoe. Occasionally, because of some unnatural growth of the plant, or want of attention, a head will need retrimming, but by the exercise of a little care, practically all of them can be kept in marketable shape. From the windrows, the heads are gathered and loaded loose into cars, delivered to factories or placed in storage. Yields secured vary greatly, being influenced by the sort, the quality of the seed, the character of the soil, loss from insects and disease; they generally range from five to twenty tons to the acre. The crop is usually readily salable in the fall, delivered at factory or on board cars at prices ranging from $4, or even less, to $10 to $20 a ton.
In some sections, notably southern Mississippi and Louisiana, considerable acreage is grown and marketed as cabbage greens. The seed is sown in place or the plants are set quite close in the row, and as soon as they have commenced active growth and long before they have formed a distinct head, they are cut and marketed much in the same manner as spinach or kale, but this method of culture and use is very limited.
Early cabbage is generally considered marketable as soon as the leaves have closed into a head, even if this is still so soft and loose that it would be quite unmarketable later in the season. If cabbages are cut when soft and immature, they soon wilt and lose all crisp-ness and palatability; to avoid this, the earlier shipments are made in small open crates containing less than a score of heads, or sometimes in larger closed ones carrying ice, and often in refrigerator cars. Later in the season, as the heads become larger and harder, they are shipped in slat crates about 12 by 18 by 38 inches, or in ventilated burlap-covered barrels holding about two and three-fourths bushels.
Fall and winter cabbages are usually sold by the ton, of much more closely trimmed heads than are considered marketable earlier in the season, and are commonly shipped in open and well-ventilated cars without special container or packing, except as may be necessary to protect from hard freezing. Many acres are grown on contracts with shippers, packers of sauerkraut, and the like, who contract for the delivery direct from the field to factory or on board cars, of the usable product of a certain acreage at an agreed price per ton. While this is sometimes a very satisfactory arrangement, many careless and incompetent growers are induced to contract, and their neglected crops become infected with disease and insects which spread to the fields of even the most careful growers, and the crop in the. vicinity of such factories and shipping-points soon becomes unprofitable.
Formerly the most common practice was to let the plants stand until danger of hard freezing, then pulling, allowing the roots to retain what earth they would, but breaking off some of the most spreading leaves and crowding the plants together (with heads all up or all down and at a uniform height), with earth packed between them, in long shallow trenches that were gradually covered with sufficient coarse straw or litter to protect from severe freezing. A variation of this method is to pull, leaving what roots and earth adheres, and set as closely and level as possible in a shallow cellar not over 3 feet deep, which after filling is covered with a roof of boards, tarred paper and litter sufficient to keep out rain and frost, and high enough in the center to allow of handling the cabbage. It is essential to success with either trench or cellar that they be located where there is the least possible danger from standing water, rats and other vermin, and as well protected as possible from severe winds and cold.
Advantages of this method are that heads quite too soft to be salable become hard and firm, and that cabbages so stored retain to a remarkable degree their crispness and flavor, and are thought by some to be even better than when fresh from the field; but when taken from the trench or cellar, they soon lose their crispness and will not stand shipment so well as heads which were trimmed before storing. A very common method is to cut and partially trim the heads and place in piles 4 to 6 feet high and broad, and of convenient length, built over a board-covered trench which is ventilated by open ends and tiles up through the cabbage, the piles being gradually covered and the openings closed so as to prevent hard freezing (Fig. 708).
Fig. 709. Cabbage in winter storage in cabbage-house.
In certain sections a large proportion of the cabbages grown for late winter and early spring market are trimmed and stored in bins or on shelves in frostproof storehouses (Fig. 709).