How to clone a cabbage in your organic garden

Why grow cabbages and other brassicas from seed, when you can clone them? Just dig up a cabbage root and divide the stem lengthwise into four, making sure there is some root on each piece. Dip the pieces in a rooting compound and store them in slightly damp sand indoors for the winter. In spring, plant the cuttings. Produces an identical clone of the cabbage.

However, you should not do this for many years or you may face “inbreeding depression” problems. That’s the result of cultivating some species too often from their own saved seed, without refreshing the genetic plasma, for example. mixing it with seeds grown elsewhere. The plant grows weaker and weaker. But, for serious gardeners like you and me, cloning comes in handy.

Why? Root division using this method is much simpler than trying to collect the seeds when they are produced in the second year (brassica are biennial). It is also invaluable if you have a rare or traditional cabbage variety and want to grow it perpetually. If you are trying to do this from seed, you must go to great lengths to avoid cross pollination which will destroy the purity of the strain. Brassica will cross pollinate with related varieties up to a mile away, including wild turnip (rapeseed).

Instead, clone the plant. Don’t let it become a seed. And you have no problems.

Try it with any brassica

You can try this cloning process with almost any brassica: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, or kale. However, it does not work with kohlrabi or lettuce. But still few people grow kohl-rabbi, and lettuces are not brassica.

It is strange that no modern textbook author seems to have heard of “cloning a cabbage.” The idea has been around for a long time. Robert Thompson devoted a large section to this technique in The gardener’s assistant, 1871.

A leaf stem was cut from the brassica. They had no rooting compound in those days, of course. Instead, the base of the stem was rolled in ‘freshly slaked lime, dry wood ash, or powdered charcoal’ and then sunk into the side of a clay pot filled with wet sand. The pot was covered and kept moist. If you were lucky, roots would form and you had a new plant, ready to go again.

No gardening author has written about that idea since Thompson, as far as I can establish. However, the friend who alerted me to this reference said that his grandfather had grown cabbages that way his entire life. It was common knowledge in Victorian times.

Did you clone cabbages in the Renaissance?

If cloning a cabbage is that easy, it could explain how new varieties of brassica such as Brussels sprouts and Savoy sprouts were developed and stabilized in the 16th and 17th centuries. We just don’t know how they did it. No records have reached us.

But it seems unlikely that as soon as a farmer happened to see an interesting new mutation appear, he would isolate it from other cabbages in a field a mile away. Instead, he would grow it alongside his other cabbages. The seed of the mutated variety would then be crossed with that of other cabbages and the new single strain would be lost. However, indisputably, we have Brussels sprouts. How?

Suppose instead that the farmer took a stalk from that Brussels sprout prototype and grew it, year after year, without letting it sow. In other words, did you clone it? It was well within the technology of the time. So the first Brussels sprouts and other new varieties of cabbage were developed through cloning?

Today, we know that other types of plants (tomatoes, cucurbits, and peppers) can also be propagated from stem cuttings, that is. by cloning. Why do textbook authors rarely mention this? They may not have read the proper gardening books!

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