Thursday, April 10, 2008

Remembering Cabbages Past

The warm weather and the school vacation have given me the chance I needed to start seeds for our garden. Last year, I ordered heirloom garden varieties from Seed Savers Exchange. I like to save my own garden seeds from year to year, and I looked forward to sampling some of the interesting vegetables I saw on their beautifully-illustrated Web site.

Unfortunately, a cold wet spring gave way to a hot, dry summer last year. It's a good thing we don't depend on what we grow as our sole food supply, or we would have starved out. I grew enough beans to save as seed, but the broccoli bolted, the cabbage was puny and so bitter we couldn't eat it, and the tomatoes did truly bizarre things.

Hope once again triumphs over experience, and this year, I ordered more Seed Savers' seeds. I started these handsome cole crops:

Calabrese Broccoli. Brought to America by Italian immigrants in the 1880s. Popular market variety. Tight heads can grow up to 8" in diameter. After the central head is harvested, side shoots follow. 58-90 days from transplant.

I grew this broccoli last year, and it was quite good, although most of the plants dried up and didn't make heads. Between the Tarnished Plant Bugs, cabbage butterflies, and Harlequin Bugs, there wasn't all that much left for us.

Harlequin bug, adult

Year after year, I've bought cabbage plants at the local stores. Sometimes the cabbage turns out to be brussel sprouts, sometimes it's just some odd-ball variety I wasn't looking for. The last few years, I haven't even been able to find cabbage seed for the varieties that do well for us. That's why I have high hopes for these lovely plants:

Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage. Introduced in 1889. Solid round heads are 8" in diameter and weigh 7 pounds. Red throughout, vigorous and uniform, small to medium core, sure cropper, fine flavor. Excellent for cooking, salads and pickling. 98 days from transplant.

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