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Chinese Cabbage

As its name suggests, Chinese cabbage likely originated in China. A Chinese text mentions the cultivation of cabbage in the fifth century BCE. One authority believes that Chinese cabbage arose from a chance cross between pak-choi and turnip. In the second half of the 20th century, China rapidly expanded the production of Chinese cabbage. In China, Chinese cabbage is the most widely grown vegetable. In northern China, people derive one-fourth of their vegetables from Chinese cabbage. In northern China, Chinese cabbage totaled 80 percent of vegetable consumption in the winter and spring, when other vegetables are in shortage. In southern China, Chinese cabbage trails only pak-choi as a vegetable. In recent years, Chinese cabbage has spread to Inner Mongolia, Sikiong Uighur, the plateau of Chianghai Province, and Tibet. The Chinese grow thousands of cultivars.

In the 13th century Korea, having imported Chinese cabbage from China, began cultivating it, first as a medicine. In 1527, a Korean text mentioned Chinese cabbage among 43 vegetables, evidence that the crop had made the transition from medicine to food. In Korea Chinese cabbage was first a food of the elites. For centuries, Koreans have used Chinese cabbage to make kimchi, the national dish. Kimchi contains Chinese cabbage, radish, leek, red pepper, garlic, ginger, fish, and salt. In Korea, Chinese cabbage is the leading vegetable in production and consumption.

In 1866 the Japanese, having imported Chinese cabbage from China, began to cultivate it. In 1905, Japanese soldiers returning from China brought Chinese cabbage seeds. After 1910, Japanese scientists began breeding new varieties. Although the Japanese have access to more than 300 varieties, they grow only a small number of them. Farmers cultivate Chinese cabbage between 30° and 46° north in Japan, where scientists have bred varieties for each latitude. Year-round demand for Chinese cabbage has prodded breeders to develop new varieties. Because diseases may be severe in Japan, scientists have labored to breed- resistant cultivars. In summer, farmers grow Chinese cabbage in the highlands of Japan. Japanese farmers grew most Chinese cabbage in autumn. In 1980, Japan produced more than 1.7 million tons at a yield of 16 tons per acre. In area, Chinese cabbage ranks third behind radish and common cabbage in Japan. The Japanese grow Chinese cabbage in the prefectures of Ibaragi, Nagano, Aichi, Hokkaido, Gunma, and Hyogo. As the demand has increased, farmers have aimed for an early harvest to get Chinese cabbage to market when the supply is low and price high. In Japan, farmers lime the soil, adding compost and fertilizer before planting their crop. One authority recommends the application of 220 to 264 pounds of nitrogen per acre, 132 to 176 pounds of phosphorus per acre, and 220 to 264 pounds of potassium per acre. Volcanic soil may require more phosphorus. The farmer may add a side dressing of 26 pounds of nitrogen per acre and 26 pounds of potassium per acre after thinning plants and again when Chinese cabbage heads. In Japan, Chinese cabbage trails only the radish among vegetables.

Native to East Asia, Chinese cabbage is today grown in China, Korea, Japan, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Central America, West Africa, the United States, Canada, and Europe. Because Chinese cabbage does poorly in excessive heat, it is grown during cool weather and in the highlands of Southeast Asia. In Asia, small farmers grow Chinese cabbage as a cash crop. Chinese cabbage contains fiber, vitamin C, and calcium.

Diseases and Pests

The fungal disease yellows threatened cabbage from Long Island, New York, to Colorado. Prevalent in warm climates, yellows was the most severe cabbage disease in New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Infected cabbage display symptoms two to four weeks after transplantation. Fungi spread from the base to the top of a plant, turning leaves yellow-green. As a plant ages, the yellow leaves turn brown and die. Death ensues two weeks after the onset of symptoms. The causal organism, Fusarium oxysporum, is related to the Fusa- rium fungi, which cause disease in cotton, tomato, watermelon, cowpea, and pea. Fungi multiply in the soil. Once established, the disease is difficult to eradicate. Having colonized the soil, fungi enter cabbage roots. Fungi are inactive in soil below 60°F and above 90°F. Crop rotation is ineffective against Fusarium because fungi remain in the soil no matter what crop is grown. Resistant cultivars are the best defense, and as early as 1940 the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station released the cultivar Wisconsin Golden Acre. The name derived from Golden Acre, a popular variety in the United States since 1923.

A second fungal disease, blackleg, is known as dry rot. Symptoms emerge two to three weeks before transplantation, when leaves and stems betray spots. Fungi destroy roots so that cabbage, deprived of anchorage, topples over from the weight of its head. Other plants, unable to extract nutrients and water from soil, wilt. The causative agent, Phama lingam, may accrue on cabbage seeds and in this way infect the next generation. Fungi can survive as long as two years on plant debris. They spread in wet weather. Crop rotation may be effective provided the farmers allows two to three years to elapse between cabbage plantings.

The bacterium Xanthomones campestris causes the disease black rot. As the name suggests, the disease blackens cabbage leaves and stems. Infected leaves may fall from the plant. The bacterium dwarfs young plants. In some cases infected cabbage will not head. Although harvested cabbage may appear to be fine, the disease may cause it to rot in storage. Insects, wet weather, and wind spread the disease. Infecting the stomata, bacteria are often numerous in seedbeds and in this way plague new plants. Crop rotation may be effective against black rot.

Among insects, caterpillars may plague cabbage. The cabbageworm, the juvenile stage of the small white butterfly, is native to Europe. It entered the United States about 1850 and New Zealand and Australia in the 1930s. The small white butterfly, appearing in May in the temperate locales of the Northern Hemisphere, deposits one egg per cabbage leaf. Caterpillars hatch in 3 to 10 days, first appearing in June, and immediately begin feeding. Fully grown 10 to 30 days later, a second brood emerges in late July. Late cabbage may suffer acutely from cabbageworm. Also troublesome is the caterpillar known as the cabbage looper. The female lays her eggs on cabbage leaves. Hatchlings appear 3 to 10 days later. They feed at the base of a cabbage plant, proceeding up the leaves. The cabbage looper may yield three generations per year. A third caterpillar, the cutworm, lays eggs on cabbage plants, weeds, or the soil. A poorly cultivated field containing many weeds may support a large population of cutworms. Cutworms feed on cabbage stems and leaves and produce one generation per year in temperate locales. They may overwinter in plant residue. With worldwide distribution, the cutworm has the potential to cause great losses. The caterpillar of the cabbage moth is troublesome in Europe and Asia. Other caterpillar pests include the cabbage web- worm and the cross-striped cabbageworm in the United States. Farmers have used biological agents to thwart caterpillars. Among treatments is the dispersal of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which infects the cabbage looper and cabbage webworm. In the United States, farmers have used a virus to kill the cabbage looper. Insecticides, applied every one to two weeks, are also effective.

Another pest of cabbage, the cabbage aphid lays its eggs on stems, leaves, and petioles in spring. Hatchlings appear in April or May and suck sap from plants. Because the cabbage aphid tolerates frost, it can amass a large population early in spring. With populations numbering in the millions, the cabbage aphid may yield 5 to 10 generations per year. Other pests include the small and large cabbage flies. The small cabbage fly, Chortophila brassicae, is abundant north of 40° north and has infested Europe and the United States. The large cabbage fly, Chortophila floralis, threatens cabbage in Europe, Asia, and the United States. The maggots of these flies feed on cabbage roots. From the roots, they infest the stems and petioles. Infested roots rot with the result that plants grow slowly. In the worst infestations, cabbage plants wither and die.

Christopher Cumo

Further Reading

Cuthbert, Frank P., and W. J. Reid. Cabbage Insects: How to Control Them in the Home Garden. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978.

Danbrot, Margaret. The New Cabbage Soup Diet. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1997.

Nieuwhof, M. Cole Crops: Botany, Cultivation, and Utilization. London: CRC Press, 1969.

Talekar, N. S., and T. D. Griggs, eds. Chinese Cabbage: Proceedings of the First International Symposium. Shanhua, Taiwan: Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, 1981.

Walker, J. C., R. H. Larson, and A. L. Taylor. Diseases of Cabbage and Related Plants. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958.

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