The word "cabbage" is an Anglicized form of the French caboche, meaning "head."
Thousands of years ago the cabbage was a useless plant which grew along the seacoast in different parts of Europe. It had showy yellow flowers and frilled leaves. From this wild parent, more than 150 varieties of cultivated plants have been developed. Some are raised as ornamental plants, and some are used as fodder for animals. The best-known kinds are common cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and kohlrabi. The differences among these plants are in habits of growth and in their forms and flavor.
Kinds of Cabbage
There are three kinds of cabbage, white, red, and savoy. In the common cabbage there is one central bud and the leaves grow close together about it, fold over it, and form a large, solid head. Red and white cabbages have smooth leaves; the savoy cabbages have green, wrinkled leaves. Fresh white cabbage is eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable. Red cabbage is a favorite for pickling, and savoy cabbage is usually cooked before being served.
Cabbage grown commercially under normal conditions is a biennial. Farmers grow the plants one year and leave them in the ground during winter. In the spring the plants produce seed. Sometimes cabbage plants that have been subjected to cool weather (50° to 55° F.) produce seeds rather than marketable heads. In warmer weather, about 60° to 70° F., cabbage plants produce heads.
Cabbage seeds are small and look almost exactly like those of cauliflower, broccoli, or other similar plants. In regions with a mild climate, most farmers prefer to plant the seed directly in the field. They sow the seed in rows about 3 feet apart. When the young plants grow, workers thin the rows to allow a space of about 18 to 24 inches between the plants. In regions with short growing seasons, farmers may start the seeds in a greenhouse or hotbed. They plant the seeds in small, shallow boxes called flats. Shortly after the plants sprout, workers transplant them to larger flats, spacing them 2 inches apart. The plants grow for another 8 to 10 weeks, then workers transplant them to the field. However, each plant must re-establish itself every time it is transplanted, so growth is retarded. Therefore, most farmers, particularly those in mild climates, seed cabbage directly in the field.
Native to England and northwestern France, cabbage is grown throughout Europe, Asia, and America. Wisconsin produces more cabbage for processing than any other state in the U.S., while Florida is the leading state for winter and spring production of fresh market cabbage.
Insects and Diseases
The most serious diseases which attack cabbages are clubroot and black rot. These can be controlled by alternating cabbages with other crops. The cabbage worm, which develops into the small white cabbage butterfly, can controlled by insecticides.
family Cruciferae (mustards)
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This page was last updated on 03/20/2014.