Growing Crops: Cauliflower

Cauliflower is rather polarizing vegetable – either you love it or you hate it, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. It always seems to be the last vegetable left on the veggies-and-dip platters. There’s the “brainy” appearance, the odd texture…however, we like it – with plenty of Ranch or Blue Cheese dip, thank you very much.

Thanks to the sheer number of cauliflower varieties to choose from, you have a choice of harvesting cauliflower in the Summer, Fall, or Winter. Varieties include All The Year Round, Early Snowball, Early White Hybrid, Galleon, Green Goddess, Green Macerata, Idol, King, Perfection, Purple Cape, Purple of Sicily, Rosalind, Self Blanche, Snow Ball Y, Snow Crown, Stella F1, Violet Queen, and Wainfleet. That’s right, not all cauliflower is white – you can choose orange, green or purple as well.

If you’re not sure which one to try, consider this seed packet, which contains seeds of the Green Macerata, Purple of Sicily, and Snowball Y varieties:

Best Climate to Grow: Generally cauliflower is a hardy vegetable, though extremes in heat or cold can cause damage.

Light Requirements: Full sun in cooler climates; filtered sunlight to partial shade if the climate is quite warm.

Soil Requirements: Double-tilled, fertile soil that is high in nitrogen, retains moisture and has a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5 (somewhat acidic to very slightly alkaline).

Feeding and Water Requirements: Fertilize twice a month with hydrolyzed fish or any organic fertilizer with a 10% or higher nitrogen content, as cauliflower require lots of nitrogen. Soil should be moist at all times, but not wet; drip irrigation and a thick mulch of compost are recommended to retain moisture, as the root system is very shallow.

When to Plant: That will depend on the varieties you choose to grow, so you will need to consult your seed packet. In general, however, Summer harvest varieties should be sown directly in the ground about mid-Spring. Fall harvest varieties should be sown directly in the ground in late Spring. Winter varieties should be sown directly in the ground during late Spring/early Summer.

Summer harvest varieties can also be started indoors during the late Winter. Once the seedlings are about 5 inches tall and have 6 leaves, they can be hardened off and transplanted into the garden in mid-Spring to get a little bit of a jump-start on the growing season.

To protect the white heads of non-self-blanching varieties from discoloring, you will need to cover them up with the large outer leaves and secure those leaves with large rubber bands, string, or twine once they are about the size of a softball.

Planting Depth and Spacing: If sowing directly in the ground, sow the seeds ½ inch deep and 2-2½ feet apart in rows that are 2½-3 feet apart. If starting seeds indoors, wait until the seedlings are 5 inches tall and have 6 leaves before hardening off and transplanting at the aforementioned space intervals.

Container Requirements: There are three cauliflower varieties suitable for container growing: Perfection, King, and Idol. Plant them in a large container that is at least 10 inches deep. Cauliflower grown in containers will require more frequent feeding, and drip irrigation specifically for containers is recommended.

Harvesting and Storage: Harvest while the head is firm, but before the individual curds start to separate. Use a sharp knife to separate the head from the stalk, and leave a layer of the leaves attached to the head in order to delay spoilage. It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, and can be broken into individual florets, blanched and cooled, dried, and then frozen for later use in soups or sauces.

Harvesting Seeds: Not recommended. Cauliflower easily cross-pollinates with other brassica family members – such as cabbage, broccoli, or kale – and would need to be grown separately, at least a mile away from any relatives. In addition, cauliflower is actually a biennial grown as an annual, so you would need to leave your cauliflower plants grown for seed in place for two years.

Pests to Monitor: Aphids, Cabbage Root Flies, Cabbage White Butterflies and their voracious larvae, Cutworms, Flea Beetles, Pigeons, Slugs, and Snails. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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