It is well known that cabbage thrives best in a cool, moist climate. For this reason its culture is largely confined to northern districts. When grown in the South, outside of the mountain areas, advantage is taken of the cool months of late winter or spring. The Danish Ball Head is rarely grown south of Pennsylvania, and at low altitudes in this state this variety is of doubtful value.
Successful crops of cabbage are grown on a great variety of soil types, the enterprise being developed to large proportions on soils ranging from light sand to heavy clays. It is largely a question of constant moisture (although good drainage is essential) and of abundant food. Excellent crops of early and late cabbage have been grown on sandy loams, often along mountain streams, where there is a large deposit of vegetable matter and a regular supply of moisture. Perhaps the largest crops of late cabbage have been grown on clay loams, well enriched by manure. The mountain glades of the Appalachian system seem to be well adapted to this crop. Danish Ball Head, which is the most limited in soil and climatic adaptation of all the varieties, succeeds well on the DeKalb series of soils in Pennsylvania. The reclaimed swampy glades in the mountains of West Virginia have produced large crops without manure or fertilizer, although these materials, with the addition of lime, increase the yields. A mellow soil which does not bake hard and which is well supplied with humus will generally produce satisfactory crops.
There are at least five distinct methods of growing early cabbage plants: (1) From Baltimore, southward, the general practice is to sow in the open, usually in October, and when six to eight weeks old the plants are set in the field on the sides of ridges. They may also be wintered in the beds, with protection if necessary, and shifted to the field early in the spring. Fall planting, however, is more satisfactory because it produces an earlier crop. (2) The common practice years ago in the North was to sow in the open early in September and transplant into cold frames the latter part of October, the plants being protected with sash during the winter. The results were highly satisfactory, and the plan is still used by some gardeners, who claim that plants grown in this manner produce earlier cabbage than spring-grown plants. (3) An extensive grower of plants in Pennsylvania sows in very cool greenhouses early in September, transplants and holds in flats during the winter months. With a very low temperature the plants make a slow, stocky growth and with some hardening before transplanting in the field the best results may be expected. The most serious objection to the plan is the expense of operating houses for so long a period. (4) If earliness is not an important factor, the sowing may be made in hotbeds or cold frames about March 1, and the seedlings transplanted directly to the field. When this plan is adopted the seed rows should be not less than 3« inches apart and the plants thinned if necessary. (5) The plan which is now almost universally practiced in the North is to sow in hotbeds or greenhouses in January or February. If several hundred thousand plants are to be grown it is desirable to begin sowing about January 25 and to sow at intervals of a day or two until February 5. This will make it possible to transplant without any of the seedlings becoming spindly or drawn. For details of this method see Chapter XVI (Growing Early Vegetable Plants Under Glass).
Glass is not required in growing late plants. The common practice is to sow in the open, and transplant directly to field or garden. Many failures are due to the use of inferior plants. It is important that every possible effort be made to secure strong, stocky plants, ready for the field when all conditions are favorable for setting. It is an advantage to have the seed bed near the field to be cropped, so that the plants can be shifted without much loss of time or drying of the roots.
In selecting and preparing the seed bed, excessive fertility should be avoided, for very rich soils produce weak, succulent plants likely to succumb under field conditions.
The seed bed should be moderately fertile, fine, clear of stones or rubbish which would interfere with drilling, free from germs of diseases infecting the cabbage, and well supplied with moisture, particularly at the time of sowing. In order to have a full supply of moisture to insure germination, the soil should be plowed early in the spring and harrowed often enough to conserve the moisture. A special precaution may be taken by mulching the prepared soil with coarse litter from the stables.
The time of sowing depends upon locality, exposure, variety and purpose of the crop to be grown. For most localities in the North, sowings may be made any time during May; some growers prefer June 1 or later. The latest maturing varieties, as Houser and Danish Ball Head, should seldom be started later than May 15, and earlier sowing is an advantage where the growing season is short, as in the mountain regions of Pennsylvania. Early sowing is important from the standpoint of yield, while late sowing, resulting in retarded maturity, is favorable to a long period of storage.
Extensive growers use drills in sowing, making rows about 1 foot apart, thus providing ample space for tillage with hand wheel hoes. Too heavy sowings should be avoided, as thinning will then be necessary if the seed is good, in order to secure stocky plants. Eight to ten seeds an inch of drill should make a satisfactory stand. If the soil is fine and moist, « to ¾ inch of covering will insure germination. Some successful growers prefer broadcasting rather thinly, to avoid crowding of plants. When this is done the bed should be in the finest condition and the seeds raked in lightly with a garden rake.