Monday, October 24, 2011

Cabbage by Raymond F. Piper

Introduction by Jackie
It is common to see fields of cabbage crops in Somers Township.  It was a crop that made many farmers very wealthy.  Most of us have knowledge of cabbage that is limited to sauerkraut and cole slaw.  By the time you have finished reading this article, you will have an entirely different view and respect of the cabbage growers of Somers Township.

by Raymond F. Piper
(Source:  Racine Journal Times, publication date December 16, 1905)

The cabbage in some of its forms has been cultivated from prehistoric times.  The common cabbage is said to have been introduced into England by the Romans, but was little known in Scotland until brought into that country by Cromwell’s soldiers.  The wild cabbage is a native of Britain, but is much more common on the shores of the Mediterranean.  It is a comparatively insignificant plant, growing from one to two feet high.
The cabbage varies in its several varieties from the kohl rabi to the common cabbage and the cauliflower.  The cauliflower has the highest vegetative character and development of the cabbage family.  Other varieties are:  broccoli, Savoy, turnip. Kale or borecole, collards, Brussels sprouts, Jersey, or tree cabbage, and Portugal cabbage.

The tree or cow cabbage, which is grown in the Channel Islands and Northern France, attains gigantic proportions for a vegetable. The stalks frequently grow to heights of 12 or 16 feet.  These stalks are used as rails for fences and as rafters for the thatched roofs of farm buildings.  Short ones are made into umbrella handles and walking sticks, which are much in demand as curiosities among tourists.  The cow-herd of the gentlemen who introduced this sort of cabbage asserted it to be so prolific that five plants or it per day are, with proper management, sufficient for ten oxen or one hundred sheep.  The Portugal cabbage is a variety remarkable for its delicacy.

The ordinary varieties of cabbage are often called White Cabbage as a general term to distinguish them from the Red Cabbage; which is chiefly used for pickling, for which purpose it is much esteemed.  The common cabbage are again grouped according to the shape of the head, as spherical, oblong, conical and flat.  About one hundred varieties of the common white cabbage are known and cultivated in the United States.

The first cabbage grown in this section of the state for market were raised by an old German who had a few acres of land within the present city limits of Kenosha.  He grew cabbage for some years, shipping his crop south, where he received enormous prices for it, and made a small fortune.

Mr. Ben Bones perhaps began growing a few cabbages in the beginning of the 70’s.  He sold some in Racine, but shipped the bulk of his crop.  In about 1875, Ed Hansche grew about a third of an acre on his farm on the Lake Shore Road midway between Racine and Kenosha.  He peddled as many of the cabbage as he could in Racine, but he had so large a piece that he was unable to dispose of them all, and had to let some rot in the field.

A year after this, Augustus Piper, another pioneer farmer, began raising a small piece each year, enlarging it to supply his potato customers with cabbage.  One year he had a ton more than his customers could use,  and this he sold to F.W. Gunther, who made sauerkraut of it in a building situated on the southwest corner of Villa and Sixth Street.  Mr. Gunther’s business grew rapidly, and he was soon crowded for room in his building on Sixth Street. The odors also soon became noticeable.  He removed to his present location near the Junction.

Since these small beginnings, there has been a slow but sure development of the cabbage industry to its present magnitude.  Now the farmers of two counties are engaged in growing this crop.  Surrounding Berryville practically all the farmers of six townships devote their farms to a greater or less extent to cabbage farming.  Two of these townships, alone, report an aggregate yield of 23,448 tons of cabbage.  This crop, valued at $160,533.00 was raised on 2,324 acres.  This valuation perhaps seems low, but far exceeds the returns realized from any other crop.

The success of cabbage farming in southeastern Wisconsin is partly due to the soil and the ideal climate.  The soil for the most part is a mixture of loam and sand.  Artificial drainage is often necessary to get the best results.  Lake Michigan moderates the cold and winter and the heat of summer.

Rapid and direct freight movement has also been an important factor in the success of the cabbage growers of this section.  There will be still better and increased freighting facilities when the electric railway, now being constructed between Milwaukee and Chicago, and passing just west of Racine, is completed.
We will now try to learn something of how the cabbages are grown.  The fertilizing and plowing of the land, as everyone knows, is the first step.  To get the best results, one car, that is about 15 ton, of manure should be used per acre.  Most successful growers do use this amount.  The manure is shipped from Chicago.  The short distance from that city to this section makes it possible to get the manure at a low figure.
If the ground is plowed in the fall, as it often is, it must be loosened up, which is done with a disc harrow, before planting in the spring.  Up to date farmers, having large fields, use the sulky plow.  If planting is delayed for any cause, the soil must be gone over with a harrow several times, to keep it in the proper shape.

The cabbage seed is sown from the 15th of April to the first of May.  The best soil possible is selected for growing the plants.  A hand-drill is used for sowing the seed.  The rows are about eight inches apart.  In the seed bed the cabbages are, on an average, cultivated three times.  This is also done by hand.  Some seasons it is necessary to cultivate them after each rain, in order to keep the soil from becoming hard.
The plants are transplanted to the field in the last half of June, there being at this time three or four leaves.  The first week in July is not too late if the season is favorable.

When transplanting time arrives, the plants can be pulled from the seed bed if the ground is moist.  At dry times, it is necessary to loosen them with a spade, or water them before pulling; otherwise the roots are stripped off.  As soon as pulled, the plants are put in the boxes to be transported to the field.  They are kept covered and thoroughly watered until they are removed from these boxes.

A team and three men, two droppers and a driver are required to operate the cabbage planter.  Considerable skill is necessary on the part of the driver in order to make straight rows, especially if the rows are half a mile in length.  One man is also engaged in pulling plants, and another man and team in hauling water and drawing the plants to the field.

Eight thousand plants are required to plant an acre.  The rows are thirty inches apart, and the plants are twenty-four inches apart in the row.  With the planter, three to four acres can be planted per day.
About a cupful of water is ran upon each plant.  The amount of water used however, ranges from six to twenty barrels per acre, according to the moisture in the ground.

In the field the cabbages are cultivated on an average of three times.  But, as in the seed bed, a dry season may make more times necessary.  Sulky cultivators are used with satisfaction by some.  Little hoeing in the cabbage patch is done.

The harvest of the crop begins the first of September and lasts until the first of November, or a few days later.  The average yield of cabbage per acre is fifteen to twenty tons.  Higher tonnage than this per acre is not at all uncommon, but in years when the rot is bad, the yield may be as low as six tons or less.
The prices vary from $3.00 to $55.00 per ton.  The cabbage crop has brought more cash into the hands of the farmers of southeastern Wisconsin than any other crop that has ever been raised.

The weight of the cabbage in a wagon load averages from two and one-half to three tons.  One of the largest loads in this part of the country contained 7,400 pounds.  There are five hundred average cabbage in a ton.  If small, 700 or 800 are required and if large, perhaps 300.

For the first month and a half of the harvest, cabbage is shipped.  The number of cars sent out from Berryville and Racine at the height of the shipping season ranges from five to twenty cars per day, although the number has been as high as twenty-five cars.  One grower alone reports that he has sent out as many as eleven cars in one day, but this did not occur every day, and was unusual.  The minimum car contains twelve tons.  The cabbage are shipped chiefly to states in the central part of the country, among them Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Tennessee.

The storing of cabbage begins the middle of October, but shipment never ceases.  As soon as all cabbage are out of the field, removal from the storehouses begins.  For a month after storing there is little waste, but after this there is considerable.  It is sometimes the last of March before cabbage are removed from all storehouses.  There has also, like the cabbage industry itself, been a long, steady growth in the manner of storing cabbage, from the pit to the present storehouses, but space will not permit details.

Neither is there room to go into details pertaining to the diseases that the cabbage grower has to contend with, and also the insects, but  more mention might be made.  The little cabbage maggot or flea early attacks the seed bed and destroys thousands of young plants annually.  The damage of the caterpillar, of the cabbage moth, which feeds upon the leaves, is slight.  The greatest foe of the crop is the rot.  One of the most destructive rots is the early or yellow rot which makes it appearance immediately after planting, and is especially active if there is rainy weather and high temperature.  Thousands of plants are taken down in a short time by this rot.  Another form of rot also appears later when the head is nearly developed.

In cabbage growing there are some jobs that are not the most pleasant.  For instance, it is very hard to toss cabbage from a wagon to the upper part of a large store house.  Nor is it a very pleasant job to trim rotten cabbage in the winter time back in a dark, cold stall with a light. 

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