Sunday, August 16, 2015

Organic Seed Alliance Brassica Field Trial~Green Cabbages


The Organic Seed Alliance, a non-profit advocacy and educational organization with which Steve works, ran a sizable brassica field trial this year at the Ronald Welten Farm outside Gilroy, California. Fourteen cabbage, thirteen cauliflower and twelve kale varieties were planted side by side, with two replications of each. The crops were observed, measured, and tasted. This post will concentrate on the results of the green cabbage trial. The red cabbages will be covered in a separate post, and later I will also cover the other varieties.

OSA seed expert Jared Zystro met us at the site early to prepare for the field day.

Signage was added to to facilitate the tour.

Steve and Jared have worked closely for several years, and together they make a great team! They had an attentive audience for the event.


 Green Summer Cabbage Trial Results

In no particular order, here are each of the cabbages, comparing such field characteristics as the amount of aphid damage, the number of marketable heads, size, and weight, as well as the consumer traits such as appearance, density, texture, and flavor. Seeds were planted on February third, and transplanted into the field on March 31st. Heads were harvested on the field day, July 12th (73 days after transplanting). They were stored in a refrigerator and cut open on August first.

Primax, offered as organically grown seed by High Mowing Seeds, is a modern open-pollinated (OP) variety in the public domain. Primax was notable in that every head in one of the two replications was of marketable size. Most heads were 1 1/2 to 2 lbs, although one head weighed in at almost 4 lbs. It seemed particularly consistent for an OP. Primax made nice oval heads which varied in terms of density. Tasting this after three weeks in cold storage, we found it to be rather watery, with a sweet turnip flavor and overtones of nasturtium.

Early Bird, from Turtle Tree Seeds, is a product of European Biodynamic breeding. It is a modern OP in the public domain. This seed is organically and Biodynamically grown. Early Bird was five days earlier than the next varieties, and was remarkably free of aphids. It might be a desirable variety in terms of earliness, but the heads were unusually small. Early Bird makes petite, oval heads of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs, although there was a single large exceptional head of over 4 lbs amongst them (not this one). It had a good texture: crisp and juicy, and was very mild, with little flavor. Early Bird is oval, extremely dense, and early. It could be planted more densely to boost the meager yield.

Golden Acre came to us from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which offers organically grown seeds of this heirlom OP. Golden Acre was Steve's favorite of all the green cabbages based on its field performance. It was one of the earliest, harvestable only a few days after Early Bird. It had the least amount of aphids out of the whole trial. A very high percentage of the heads were nicely formed and marketable. This is a beautiful heirloom which he intends to offer in the future. Golden Acre heads tend to be larger than the average in this trial, producing a range of from two to nearly six pounds. It offers attractive roundish, reasonably tightly packed, firm heads. It had a good texture, and a mildly sweet, slightly cabbagey flavor. 

Capture is an F-1 hybrid bred by Bejo Seeds. It is offered as organically grown seed by High Mowing. Capture is a very consistent, much bigger cabbage, 2 1/2 lbs and up, with most running 6 to 7 lbs. It matures 2 to 3 weeks later than Early Bird. It was fairly susceptible to aphids. Capture's heads are slightly flattened. When cut open, the interior of Capture seems less tightly filled out than optimal. Very dry, squeaky to the tooth, with a soapy off-flavor and peppery aftertaste. Not a favorite!

Early Flat Dutch was procured from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange as conventionally grown seed. It is an heirloom OP. Early Flat Dutch was particularly affected by aphids, which apparently found it delicious. Unfortunately, our tasters did not. It should be noted that this is really a fall/winter variety, and so did not perform up to its potential. Early Flat Dutch made large, flattened heads, averaging just over 3 lbs. It had a flavor generally characterized by the tasters as "nasty": dry, bitter radish, off-taste. Early Flat Dutch was a disappointment. The heads were not well filled out, and had frozen in storage. It might have needed more time, or performed better later in the season. Steve intends to trial it again in a later trial.

Farao F-1 Is a modern hybrid, owned by Bejo Seeds. It is available as organically grown seed from High Mowing. Farao had moderate to light pressure from aphids. It had relatively consistent, fairly small heads, which matured two weeks later than Early Bird. As expected from a hybrid, this was very uniform. Some early heads weighed 1 1/2 lbs, but most of the heads averaged 3 lbs. Farao offered consistent spherical heads. They have a mild cabbage flavor. Farao is an excellent hybrid. We are looking to measure up to this with open-pollinated varieties.

Copenhagen Is an heirloom OP, available as organically grown seed from High Mowing. Copenhagen has a rounded head that is larger (2-3 lbs.) than most of these summer cabbages. It had fairly light aphid damage, and matured three weeks later than Early Bird. Copenhagen heads are large and firm; 2 to nearly 4 lbs.  Its eating quality was low: watery, lacking flavor, and not crisp. Copenhagen looks promising, from a field and marketing view, but the flavor and texture need improvement. 

Columbia is the result of long-time organic produce and seed grower Nash Huber's efforts at his farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It is a modern OP in the public domain, available from Nash's Organic Produce. Columbia is a particularly attractive cabbage, with low aphid pressure, and firm round heads, many of which present an attractive rose blush. It matures about two weeks after Early Bird. Columbia heads are perfectly spherical, and weigh in at 1 1/2 to nearly 3 lbs. It was crisp and juicy, with a mild sweetness and no peppery aftertaste. Columbia is one of the best of the green OP varieties. It is very solid and hard. It is as good or better than the green hybrids trialed.

In summation, there were several instances of open-pollinated breeding measuring up to the standard hybrid market varieties. Especially notable is the work of long-time produce farmer and seedsman Nash Huber. It is clear that OP breeding, if done with care and perseverance, can equal or surpass the best hybrids have to offer. It is also obvious that the work is just beginning. The seeds of the future are in the hands of determined farmers of today, who are called upon to steward the best of our genetic heritage into a future we can barely imagine. We are at the beginning of a seed revolution now!

1 comment:

  1. Cabbage is a very good vegetable, specially for the health. It has been used in salad also. Green cabbage is only found in the American region. Thank you for sharing the pictures.