Monday, August 17, 2015

Organic Seed Alliance Brassica Trial~Red Cabbages

Red Acre
The Brassica Field Trial which Steve Peters ran for the Organic Seed Alliance this year at Ronald Welten's seed farm outside of Gilroy was very rich in information regarding the varieties trialed. Steve chose a number of red and green summer cabbages, kales, and cauliflowers, including standard hybrids as well as both recently developed and heirloom open-pollinated (OP) varieties,  to grow side by side. His goal was to measure how well the OPs stacked up next to the hybrids, and to seek and promote under-utilized varieties which might be valuable for organic market growers. 

The site chosen was advantageous in that the farmer, Ronald Welten, is an experienced seed grower who appreciates the need for trialing crops. He gains valuable insights from the trial himself, and is willing to commit time and effort into tending the plots. This is the kind of cooperation upon which we depend. 

There were disadvantages to the site and to the timing of the trial, as well. The soil here is not especially rich, the land is sloped,  there were problems with the irrigation, and the season of planting was perhaps too late and hot, leading to a fairly severe aphid infestation. However, these "disadvantages" offer greater insights into the performance of the trialed varieties under stress, and that is how we can really see which varieties may offer valuable adaptations in the face of our changing environment. Most varieties will do well in a perfect situation. We want to learn which do best when the going gets tough!

Aphids on Integro, June 16th.

Steve studies crop progress, June 16th
While Steve is willing to do a lot of the work involved, these trials are run all around the region, and he can't personally take care of every aspect. This farm is about an hour away, which makes frequent visits costly. We continue to seek organic farmers within a 100 mile radius of our San Mateo, California home with whom to work. Anyone interested in either hosting trials or in cooperating in other aspects of growing open pollinated, organic seed in the area can contact Steve:

After the harvest at the field day on July 12th (73 days after transplanting seedlings into the field) heads were cut in half, measured, and photographed. Samples were kept for a tasting, and the remainder were krauted.  

The green cabbage results were covered in an earlier post. In this post I will report on the results of the red cabbage comparisons, including field characteristics, susceptibility to aphids, yields, as well as flavor and texture. The six red cabbages trailed are presented in no particular order.

  Red Summer Cabbage Trial Results 

Super Red 80 F-1 is available as conventionally grown seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds. It is a modern F-1 hybrid which was developed by Sakata Seeds. Super Red 80 was very consistent. It did suffer from moderate aphid pressure, but had a high percentage of marketable heads. Some early heads were 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. Later on many heads were 3 1/2 to 4. This is a clear standard, and sets the bar for open pollinates breeding to match. It had a very mild but pleasant flavor. Super Red 80 is perfectly round and tightly packed, epitomizing what we want to see. Nevertheless, the core is proportionately a bit large.

Super Red 80 F-1

Amarant is a modern OP in the public domain. It's a red cabbage which comes organically grown from the Biodynamic seed company, Turtle Tree Seeds. This is one of our favorites from the trial, with an especially beautiful stainless steel sheen to the leaves. Amarant develops a reliable, dense head; slightly ovoid and rock-hard, with a large percentage of marketable heads of a rich red-violet hue. It was very early and suffered very little from the aphids. There was a fairly wide range of sizes, from 1 1/2 to over 5 lbs, which could be considered either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on marketing needs. Amarant's luminous beauty is more than skin deep. It has a mild, slightly peppery, pleasant flavor and a crunchy, juicy texture.  Amarant is a truly terrific open-pollinated variety. This is one we intend to improve by selection, propagate, and offer in the near future.


Red Acre is an old reliable OP in the public domain. We obtained it as organically grown seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. This is an attractive red cabbage, with the lowest amount of aphid damage of all the red varieties. It has moderately small heads around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs. Red Acre's inner color was an unusual glowing bright lilac. It is crisp and juicy, with mild sweetness and a slight nasturtium taste. Enjoyable eating! However, this Red Acre head did not fill out well. It was asymmetrical and suffered some cold damage from refrigerated storage on the top. A disappointment, but possibly an anomaly. Worth another is quite unique.

Mammoth Red Rock is a beautiful heirloom from Seed Saver's Exchange, which used to sell conventionally grown seed of this OP variety in their catalog. Now it is only listed in the yearbook, offered by individual growers. It was the latest maturing of all the cabbages in the trial, and had moderate aphid damage. At time of harvest (mid-July) 50% of the heads were still immature from a March 31st transplant date. Mammoth Red Rock offers attractive oval heads of 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 lbs. It has a spicy, cabbagey flavor and average texture. The heads of Mammoth Red Rock are very dense and tight, but it had the longest core length in the trial. Nevertheless it shows promise, and will be planted again in a fall/winter trial.

Integro is an F-1 hybrid owned by Bejo Seeds. It came to us as organically grown seed from High Mowing. In the field, Integro gets a big thumbs down. In one of the two reps there were no harvestable heads by the date of harvest. Those few which did mature were about two weeks later than Early Bird. They had a medium to heavy aphid infestation. Integro has an attractive deep red-violet roundish head weighing 2 to 3 1/2 lbs. Integro's internal profile in this individual we sampled was oddly triangular. The heads are fairly dense, but the core is a bit large. It was notably dry and flavorless. 

Integro F-1

Red Express is another modern OP which has most recently been selected and improved by farmer/breeder Nash Huber. It is available from Nash's Organic Produce. Red Express was very early, just a few days after Early Bird. It had low aphid pressure, and the heads were relatively small at around 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. Red Express heads are bright red-violet, spherical, and rock-hard. The texture was quite hard and dry, with a sweet mild flavor that is slightly peppery. Nash has another clear winner in Red Express!

Red Express

1 comment:

  1. wow! The field look lovely and have yielded a great variety of red cabbages. They are really good for health and used extensively in salads.