The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Cabbage

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CABBAGE, a biennial plant, too well known to need description, and constituting one of the most valuable classes of vegetables. The Brassica oleracea, the original species from which the numerous varieties of cultivated cabbages are derived, although in a wild state very remote in appearance from the full, round head which our plants present, is scarcely more so than the kale, cauliflower, broccoli, etc., all of which belong to the same family. There are two general classes of cabbage, smooth-leaved and wrinkle-leaved. The smooth-leaved are either red or green and the head conical, oblong, round or flat. The principal varieties are known to have existed at least as far back as the 16th century, but minor varieties are being constantly produced by selection and intercrossing. The parent stock is of highly vegetable character, as its habitat and habit alike show; and placed in more favorable conditions, its growth becomes luxuriant. More normally it is carried back into the stem, and this may accordingly become swollen and turnip-like, in which case we have the kohl-rabi, of which an extreme subterranean and almost turnip-like variety has also arisen; or it may be, as in the Jersey cabbage, largely applied to the purpose of the growth of the stem, which may reach a height of 8 to 10 feet, and furnish not only walking-sticks, but even spars for small thatched roofs, etc. The vegetative overplus may, however, also be applied to the formation of buds, which accordingly develop with peculiar exuberance, giving us Brussels sprouts. The most evolved and final variety is the cauliflower, in which the vegetative surplus becomes poured into the flowering head, of which the flower is more or less checked; the inflorescence becoming a dense corymb instead of an open panicle, and the majority of the flowers aborting, so as to become incapable of producing seed. Let a specially vegetative cabbage repeat the excessive development of its leaf parenchyma, and we have the wrinkled and blistered savoy. Again a specially vegetative cauliflower gives us an easily grown and hardy winter variety, broccoli, from which, and not from the ordinary cauliflower, a sprouting variety arises in turn.

The common cabbage is by far the most valuable to both man and beast. It is also the most productive; for it is believed that an acre of ground will yield a greater weight of green vegetable matter (and thus be more profitable to the farmer) in the shape of cabbage than in that of any other vegetable whatever. It is very abundantly produced by clay soils which are unfit for turnips, and the farmers who cultivate such soils will find it a vegetable worthy of much attention. The cabbage furnishes green fodder for cows and sheep, which is at least as good as turnips or carrots, fattening the animals equally fast, and rendering their milk, butter, etc., to the full as sweet, and is far preferable, as it keeps later in the spring, and thus supplies green food when no other can be procured. It is eaten by men in three forms, all of which have their admirers, but which vary much in respect to their wholesomeness and digestibility. These forms are sliced raw, plain-boiled and salted cabbage or sauerkraut (q.v), the favorite dish of the German nation. Raw cabbage, sliced fine and eaten with vinegar, either cold, or hot enough merely to wilt the vegetable, is one of me lightest and most wholesome articles of vegetable food, and in this shape will supply a green summer vegetable through the whole of the winter. Its use cannot be too highly recommended. Boiled cabbage takes longer to digest and is more trying to a weak stomach.

Cultivation. — The cabbage being biennial, the main crop must be sown the autumn previous to that in which it is to be reaped. Field cabbages and the drum-head varieties that are used in gardens, being late in character, may be sown in July, or from the third week of that month to the second week in August. But the smaller and earlier sorts used in gardens should not be sown before the first week of August, nor later than the second week of that month. If the plants are reared earlier, they are apt to run to seed the following spring; and if, on the other hand, they are reared later, they will not acquire strength enough to withstand the cold of winter before it comes upon them. For successive crops to be used in the shape of young summer cabbages, one or two sowings may be made from the beginning of March to the beginning of April. Autumn-sown plants may be planted out in rows permanently, as soon as they are strong enough. Additional plantations from the same sowing may be made in spring, to be followed by others, made at intervals, up till July, from spring-sown plants. Thus a close succession of usable cabbages may be obtained the year round. In the northern parts of the United States cabbages for the early summer market are sown about September, kept under glass or frames during winter and planted out in spring. For later markets the seed is sown in beds as early as possible in spring (about March), and transplanted later. Cabbages are sometimes preserved for winter by inverting them and burying them in the ground. Cabbage coleworts may be obtained from any good early variety of cabbage. They are simply cabbages which are not permitted to form hearts, but are used while the leaves are yet green and the hearts more or less open. Three sowings should be made for the rearing of these: the first about the middle of June, the second about the same time in July, and the third about the last week of the latter month, or the first week of August. These sowings will provide crops of green cabbages from October till March or April, if the winter is not destructive, after which they begin to run to seed.