Brassica oleracea capitata
The Cabbage is a biennial plant; and, though comparatively hardy, will not withstand the winters of the Northern States in the open ground.
When fully developed, it is from four to five feet in height. The flowers are cruciform, generally yellow, but sometimes white or yellowish-white. The seeds, which ripen in July and August of the second year, are round, reddish-brown or blackish-brown, and retain their vitality five years.
Soil and Cultivation. — Cabbages do best when grown in well-composted ground with soil at pH 7 or above. In fertile soil, they are generally earlier than when raised in cold and stiff ground. But compost or manure need not be applied if the ground is naturally fertile; the flavor is generally better in soils than where a great quantity of fertilizer is used.
Cultivate shallowly to keep down weeds. Ample soil moisture is necessary throughout the growing season to produce good cabbage. Watering is especially important in fall plantings to help the young plants withstand the intense sunlight and heat of summer and to supply the developing heads with sufficient water to develop quickly.
Propagation.—Cabbage varieties are propagated from seed sown annually. For early use, a sowing may be made in a hot-bed in February or March; and, for winter use, the seed may be sown in a nursery-bed in the open ground in May or June. When planting cabbage space plants 12 to 24 inches apart in the row, depending upon the variety and the size of head desired. The closer the spacing, the smaller the heads will be. Early varieties are usually planted 12 inches apart in all directions. Early varieties produce 1 to 3 pound heads and later varieties produce 4 to 8 pound heads. Sow cabbage seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Keep the seeds moist and thin or transplant the seedlings to the desired spacing. The plants removed may be transplanted to another row or flat.
Harvesting. — Cabbage can be harvested anytime after the heads form. Cut the cabbage heads when they are solid but before they crack or split. When heads are mature, a heavy rain can cause the heads to crack or split open. The exposed internal part of the cabbage can become unusable. Harvest split heads as soon as possible after they are discovered.
You can also harvest a later crop of small heads. These sprouts develop on the stumps of the cut stems. Cut as close to the lower surface of the head as possible, leaving the loose outer leaves intact. Buds that grow in the axils of these leaves later form sprouts. The sprouts develop to 2 to 4 inches in diameter and should be picked when firm.
Uses. — The only part of the plant that is normally eaten is the leafy head, which is the spherical cluster of immature leaves, and does include the unfolded outer leaves. Cabbage is used in a variety of dishes for its naturally spicy flavor. Cabbage is widely consumed raw, cooked, or preserved in a great variety of dishes;it is also the main ingredient in coleslaw and cabbage soup.