Cabbage is by far the most important member of the genus Brassica that is grown as a vegetable. It has been known from earliest antiquity and was probably in general use as early as 2000 to 2500 B.C. Several types were cultivated at the time of Pliny. At the present time Cabbage is found wild on the sea coasts of western and southern Europe.
Cabbage thrives best in a relatively cool, moist climate. In the southern region it is grown largely during the winter and early spring, while in the northern states it is grown as either a late spring or fall crop.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of Cabbage which vary in size, shape, maturity, color and resistance to various diseases. Some are used for boiling, coleslaw and salads while others, the larger-headed sorts, are grown basically for sauerkraut and pickling. It is suggested that the home gardener check several good seed catalogues and then select the variety that best meets his needs.
Good (yellows resistant) green and early varieties are: ‘Jersey Wakefield’ (a conical head), ‘Golden Acre’, ‘Stonehead’, and ‘Copenhagen’. Green and late: Danish Ballhead types such as ‘Penn State Ballhead’, or ‘Wisconsin Hollander’. Red types are ‘Red Acre’, or ‘Red Danish’ and Savoy types, and ‘Chieftain’.
Cabbage Soils and Fertilizers
Most garden soils will produce a good crop of Cabbage if the soil is properly prepared and fertilized. Generally early Cabbage is grown on the lighter sandy-loam soils, while late Cabbage is grown on heavier soils that are more retentive of moisture. Perhaps more important than soil texture, is its supply of moisture and its fertility.
Cabbage is a heavy feeder, especially of nitrogen and potash. If animal manure is available, liberal applications prior to plowing or spading will be beneficial. In addition to manure, 30-40 lbs. of a 5-8-7 or similar ratio of a commercial fertilizer should be applied prior to planting, followed by several side dressings of nitrate of soda, it lbs. per too ft. of row, during the first 5 weeks after the plants have been set into the garden.
Growing Cabbage Plants
For early Cabbage sow the seed in good potting soil in flats or other suitable containers a month or 6 weeks earlier than the plants are to be set out. Sow the seed in drills in. deep and 2 in. apart. When the seedlings reach a size of 2-3 in. in height, transplant into boxes with spacing of 1-11 in. Maintain uniform soil moisture and a temperature of 60 to 70° F. until a week or two before field planting when the temperature should be reduced to 50-55°F. The method of raising plants for the late crop is exactly the same except that the flats or boxes are kept out-of-doors rather than under glass in the home or in hotbeds.
Cabbage plants that are well hardened can beset out in the garden even though the temperature may drop down below freezing for several days. Spacing will depend largely on the variety. ‘Jersey Wakefield’, ‘Golden Acre’, and ‘Copenhagen’ may be set 15 in. in the row, while the larger-headed Ballhead types should be given a hit more space, say 15-18 in. apart.
Cabbage roots are wide spread and relatively shallow. Sufficient cultivation should be given to keep down the weeds and to maintain shallow soil mulch when the plants are small. Hand hoeing or hand weeding may be necessary after the plants reach full size if weeds are a problem.
The heads are usable anytime after they have properly formed. If left too long after maturity the heads will split. In cutting use a large knife and cut just above the large outer leaves.
Late Cabbage may be stored in outdoor pits for periods of 4-8 weeks. The plants are pulled, roots and all, and placed in the pit, heads down, and then covered with hay or straw and a layer of soil.
Cabbage Insect Pests
Several greenish leaf-eating caterpillars attack Cabbage and related plants. They include the cabbage worm and cabbage looper. To control, use Bacillus thuringensis regularly at 7-10 day intervals. Begin in May when first butterflies are seen after planting in the South, or use Sevin for good results. After the edible part of plant appears (heads) use Sevin, a 4% malathiondust 1 oz. per 50 ft. of row.
Cabbage aphid may be a serious pest. These soft-bodied, green or black insects may be controlled with a malathion dust or anicotine dust.
Root maggots can be serious for all crops in the Mustard Family. Control of the maggot is in applying each cupful to each plant when set out in the garden of a diazinon suspension in the transplant water, using 5 oz. 50% wettable powder in suspension.
Black and red Harlequin bugs occur in the southern states. Adults and nymphs suck the plant sap and are very hard to kill. Hand pick or, if serious, use Carbaryl (Sevin) dust.
Black rot caused by a bacterium that lives over in the seed produces a black ring in the stem and veins of the leaves. Blackleg is a disease caused by a fungus parasite that invades the seed and lives over in the soil. Its worst damage is to young plants in the seed bed. Both of these diseases may be kept under control by treating the seed with hot water (Cabbage for 25 min. other crucifers for 18 min. at 1220 F.), by using sterilized soil in the seed bed and by crop rotation in the garden.
Cabbage yellows caused by a fungus which shows up by the lifeless yellowish-green color of the plants, 2-4 weeks after transplanting, followed by a stunted, malformed growth. This disease is soil-borne and the only control lies in crop rotation and in using yellow-resistant varieties.
Club root is produced by an invasion of a slime mold on the roots. The roots of affected plants show a thickened, malformed appearance. This is a soil parasite which thrives in an acid soil. Soil pH should test 6.8-7 and transplants should come from soil that has been treated with Vapam, 1 pint per 50 sq. ft., or apply Terrachlor 75% wettable powder, 5 lbs. per 100 gal. of water, using pint of this per plant.
Cabbage and the other crucifers are subject to other insects and diseases which generally are of minor importance. In addition certain physiological disorders are common, whiptail in Cauliflower and tip burns of Cabbage, in both cases indicated by poor and malformed leaf blades. They are caused by an acid soil and an unbalanced ratio of potash to phosphorus. Browning or brown rot is caused by a deficiency of boron. This is most prominent in Cauliflower. The symptoms are a change in color of the foliage, thickening and brittleness of the leaves and a browning of the “curd” in the case of Cauliflower. Control is in applying 8 oz. per 1000 sq. ft. of borax mixed in the commercial fertilizer or as a foliar spray.
Two more or less distinct species are grown, Pe-tsai (Brassica pekinensis)and Pak-Choi (B. chinensis). The Pe-tsairesembles Cos Lettuce but produces a much larger head which is elongated and compact. The Pak-Choi type resembles Swiss Chard with long, dark green leaves. This kind does not form a solid head.