Old Style Cabbage Farming

Early cabbage is not a farm gardener’s crop at the North, though in the Southern States the early varieties can be grown by farmers for shipment to the great Northern markets. The Northern farmer, unless provided with glass, usually finds more profit in the later and larger sorts, which mature in autumn.

Soil.—Rich, loamy soil, containing much clay, is best for this vegetable, which is a rank feeder. Large amounts of manure are demanded. The manure is best applied in a partially rotted form, as fresh manure of any kind (especially hog manure) is liable to produce the disease or deformity known as club-root, the spores of the disease apparently being in the fresh manure; though land too long cropped with cabbage is likely to produce the same disease without the application of fresh manure of any kind.

Seed — It is of especial importance that good seed be planted, as cabbage varies so much and shows such a disposition to go back to undesirable types that great dissatisfaction and loss attend all experiments with poorly-selected seed. The choice of seed not infrequently determines the size and success of the crop. Expert cabbage growers are well aware of this fact.

Planting — The manure should be broadcasted, and an ample amount used, with a high-grade fertilizer in the row. The young plants, previously started in a seed-bed, should (at the North) be set out in July. The seed for late cabbage is planted in May. A quarter pound of seed will give enough plants for an acre.

The rows should be 4 feet apart, and the plants 2½ feet apart in the rows. These distances favor good cultivation and quick growth. In some parts of New England the seed is sown in the open field, in rows where the cabbage is to grow, but the practice of transplanting from seedbeds is found most satisfactory.

The rainfall here usually insures a fair crop of cabbage, but any crop which requires transplanting in midsummer is liable to delay or injury in case of protracted dry weather. Hence, irrigation is desirable. At the distances just recommended for planting (4 × 2½ feet) there would be 4,356 plants to the acre. In the case of such varieties as Johnson & Stokes’ Earliest and Jersey Wakefield cabbage, where the number of plants per acre would be perhaps 10,000, the Michigan Experiment Station obtained 5,000 more marketable heads per acre under irrigation than where water was not used upon the growing crop. (This fact is mentioned in a book on irrigation just issued by the publishers of this book).

Varieties.—The earliest varieties of cabbage have small, conical heads; the midsummer sorts mostly round heads; and the late or drumhead sorts have large, flat heads. There are cabbages which never head; as, for instance, the collards of the South; and there are varieties of crinkled-leaf cabbages, known as the Savoy types. The kales are closely related to the cabbages. Both cabbages and kales have purple-colored forms, sometimes called red forms.

Cabbage — For early varieties for the South, we recommend Johnson & Stokes’ Earliest, Early Jersey Wakefield and Charleston Wakefield; for both early and late in the North, Johnson & Stokes’ Market Gardeners’ No. 2, Louderback’s All the Year Round; for late varieties for the North, New Rock Head Winter, Johnson & Stokes’ Matchless Flat Dutch, Danish Ball Head. The Johnson & Stokes’ Hard Heading Savoy Cabbage is of rare excellence. For descriptions of the many varieties of cabbage, please see “Johnson & Stokes’ Garden and Farm Manual.”

Cultivation — Thorough horse cultivation between the rows should be supplemented by a hand-hoe between the plants in the rows. The cultivation must be good and continuous until the heads begin to form.

Diseases and Insects Enemies — Club root has been mentioned. It is a fungous trouble. The best remedy is new ground. The black flea on very young plants can be conquered with air-slacked lime or wood ashes. The cut worm is troublesome only in spring; not with late cabbage. The root maggot is sometimes very destructive, both with cabbage and cauliflower. New ground is the most satisfactory remedy. Green aphides or lice often follow lack of strength in the cabbage. Pyrethrum powder, air-slacked lime, kerosene emulsion, etc., are used as remedies for lice. The pyrethrum may be used dry or in water, at the rate of a tablespoonful to two gallons. The green cabbage worm, one of the worst of all enemies, can be pretty effectually checked by means of air-slaked lime dusted over the leaves. Other caterpillars yield to the same treatment.

Bursting — Bursting of cabbage heads is caused by a second growth, the result, perhaps, of continued wet weather, or warm weather following cold weather. The best remedy is to cut part of the feeding roots, either by close cultivation or with a hoe.

Selling — Cabbage prices vary between extremes that are far separated. Early cabbage usually sells at a good profit. Summer and autumn prices may be low. Winter and spring prices are almost always fair, and occasionally extra. Pennsylvania farmers sometimes ship to wholesalers in the cities and sometimes sell at public sale in the open field, in the autumn, just as the crop stands. The latter plan is an excellent one, where auction prices warrant it. It avoids the cost and risk of storage, as each buyer removes and stores his purchase.

Storage — Cabbage will bear much freezing without injury. The art of winter storage is to put it where it will have the fewest changes of temperature, and where it will be cool and damp without being wet.

The most common practice is to cover two or three rows of inverted heads, with roots attached, with from 6 to 12 inches of soil, making provision for good drainage by ditches on both sides of the wedge-shaped heap.

Where heads are to be carried over for seed, or where it is intended to head up soft cabbages during the winter (a feasible thing) the roots are set downward instead of upward. If care be taken to remove the roots without much injury, they may be set in furrows or trenches, and the earth heaped over the cabbages just as in the several ways above mentioned, and they will make decided growth during [Pg 49] their life under ground. In fact, a cabbage with any sort of immature head in November will, under proper management, be in good marketable condition in March or April.

Solid freezing in the trenches is not necessarily destructive, but if the temperature falls much below 15° (at the point occupied by the heads), there is danger that they will perish. They may be in good edible condition after such severe freezing, but the chances are that they will fail to grow if set out for seed. The cabbage decays with a strong, offensive smell when its tissues finally break down after repeated changes of temperature and moisture. A uniform temperature is favored by the use of earth in storage, and though storage in buildings and cellars is quite feasible, there is nothing better or cheaper than the soil of the open field.

If the crop is not all to be marketed at one time, it is well to make a number of separate trenches, so that each can be wholly cleared of its contents at a single opening. These trenches and ridges must be made upon dry ground, where there is no standing water.

For Stock — Cabbages make good food for cows, but should be fed after milking; and frozen cabbages should never be fed in any considerable quantity, as they are liable to cause hoven or bloat.

This article was taken from,


Author: JOHNSON & STOKES, Seed Growers and Merchants

Published 1898