The Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is a vegetable that can hardly be excelled in usefulness by any other that is grown. Most people make more fuss about the first new Potato than about the first spring Cabbage, but I doubt if they really enjoy it more, and I am quite sure that it does not do them so much good.
The capable vegetable grower schemes things so that his Cabbages just fit in with, or slightly overlap, his Broccolis. I mean he arranges that before the last Broccoli is cut there shall be sweet young Cabbages ready. Sometimes his plans go wrong, and then there is a much-felt gap.
There are lucky people in this world who can sow Cabbages in July or August, and cut them the following February or March. All are not so favoured with soil and climate, and are very well satisfied if they are able to begin cutting in April. In cold soils and bleak, wind-blown districts Cabbages from summer sowings are often not in till May, which is uncomfortably late.
The most irritating thing that befalls the spring Cabbage grower is "bolting," or running to seed. Sometimes one or two plants in a bed go, sometimes nearly the whole of them. Bolting is very liable to occur where a mild, wet autumn and early winter follow a dry summer. The plants first languish through the drought, and are then pushed along at a great pace by the wet, thus making most of their growth at the wrong time. The experienced grower can tell very early in the bolting stage what is going to happen, and if he is on the alert he may perhaps be in time to avert the catastrophe by piercing the stem with the point of his knife just beneath the lower leaves, and passing the blade right through, thus forming a slit; but the plan is not always successful.
Fig. 52. How To Raise Cabbages And Other Greens For Winter And Spring.
C, the result of a bad start; drawn, leggy plants.
D, the early reward of a good start; strong, dwarf plants that will stand the winter.
E, soil drawn up to the stems on approach of winter as a means of protection.
It should be remembered, however, that some varieties are always much more liable to bolt than others, and this brings me to an important point - the selection of sorts. Three very line Cabbages to sow for a spring crop are Ellam's Early, Suttons' April, and Webb's Emperor.
The spring crop of Cabbages may be accelerated in two ways: by commencing to hoe early in the year, and by applying a little nitrogenous fertiliser, such as nitrate of soda or sulphate of ammonia, at the rate of 1 oz. per square yard (see Manures). It is necessary to utter a word of warning regarding the use of these stimulants. Be very careful to keep them off the leaves. So very powerful are they that even when the salt has been instantly shaken off the leaves on which a few particles have fallen the foliage has browned.
Cabbages are not held in much esteem as a summer crop, but have their value in autumn. To come in then a sowing may be made in April or early May. The little St. John's Day Drumhead is very nice for this purpose, and a village gardener once remarked to me, with ill-concealed gusto, that it tasted like pickled pork and Cabbage together! This may or may not recommend it to the reader.
There are many excellent strains of Cabbage for spring sowing. I cannot say that any particular one is better than all the rest, but after testing many I can confidently say that any one of the following may be chosen with the certainty of giving satisfaction: Carters' Heartwell Marrow, Daniels' Defiance (if a large one is wanted), Improved Nonpareil, Mein's No. 1, Suttons' All-heart, and Wheeler's Imperial.
While on the subject of Cabbages, one or two connected crops may be mentioned.
First there are the Coleworts, Hardy Green, and Rosette, the latter for choice. These may be sown in May for giving sweet and useful bunch greens.
Then there is Couve Tronchuda, the Portugal or Braganza Cabbage. We all know that Charles II.'s consort came from Braganza, but we do not all know that a somewhat peculiar Cabbage comes from there. The large leaves have very thick midribs, which form an agreeable dish, and cause this variety to be spoken of as the Seakale Cabbage at times. Seed should be sown under glass early in spring, and the plants put out in rich soil.
Thirdly, there is the pickling Cabbage, of which the Red Dutch is a good variety. This should be sown in August to give massive hearts the following summer.