Everything About: Cauliflower

There are many products named here, with links or pictures.

These links and products are not paid advertisements. Some I use and some I don’t.

I name them here as a place for you to begin researching what you might want to use for yourself.

It is the same with the various varieties of cauliflower; some I use, some I don’t, but they are mentioned to provide you choices of what you may wish to try.

SOIL REQUIREMENTS

Cauliflower is another of the cole crops, wanting cool temperatures, even moisture, and very rich soil. As with all other plants, well aged compost fits the bill.

Prepare your cauliflower site a season or two before planting, to allow the nutrients from the compost and amendments time to be the most available. For spring planting, prepare in fall and for fall planting prepare in spring.

Begin by adding 2-3″ of compost for every 8″ of soil. In a raised bed, make that a half and half mixture. Also add a generous amount of kelp meal, Root Shield granules, and if your soil is very heavy clay, 1/2″ of sand. Dig or till in your amendments, then water heavily.

Next water with a mixture of Soil Restore, Bacterial Concentrate, and All in One liquid fertilizer. This will increase the beneficial microbes, reduce the pathogens, and make sure the nutrients are available when you plant.

http://nutrapathic.com/soil_restore.html, www.natureslawn.com , http://www.rinconvitova.com/inoculan.htm#RootShield granules

If you are preparing the soil in spring, you may consider planting aromatic herbs to give them time to establish before you plant the cauliflower. Herbs can help repel destructive pests like cabbage lopers which will ruin your crop.

SEED STARTING

Indoors: cauliflower should be started 4-6 weeks before you wish to plant. Start your cauliflower seed in a 2-3″ container so you don’t have to repot, or in a large cell flat insert.

If you prefer, you can start your seeds in a tray, spacing them at 2-3″, then use a knife to “cut” the soil into 2″ blocks, much like is often done in cold frame seed beds.

Use a potting mix made of half potting soil and half fine bagged compost to provide the most nutrient for strong early growth. I also like to use a Green Guard seed treatment, which speeds up germination and helps prevent diseases like damping off from killing your seedlings.

If you prefer to use jiffy pellets or coir blocks to start your seeds, you will need to provide plenty of fertilizers, such as Root Blast, Fish Emulsion, or a hydroponic liquid like Fox Farm Grow Big.

I suggest soaking the dry pellets in your liquid fertilizer, then use a more dilute solution every week. There are also foliar feeding options, such as Nitrozyme or liquid kelp and fix fertilizers.

Foliar feeding can also boost growth in seedlings potted with soil mixes, if you find they aren’t growing as well as you might wish. They can also help prevent shock when you begin hardening off or transplanting

www.gardensalive.com/product.asp?pn=82282 , www.rootblast.com , http://www.biobasics.biz/nitrozyme.html , http://www.harrisseeds.com/Storefront/s-616-jiffy-peat-pellets.aspx 

Place your sown flats under lights, with the lights close to prevent tall leggy seedlings. The air should be warm, 70F, until the seedlings emerge in about 10 days. Once germinated, you should grow them under lights in a cooler temperature at 60F for another 2 weeks.

When the seedlings have 4-5 full leaves, you want to begin hardening off, ie preparing them for outdoor conditions. Set them outside in the warmer parts of the day and bring in at night for 2-3 days. Then leave outside in a warm, sheltered location for 2-3 days, or under a low tunnel where they will grow.

For fall planting, you want the opposite: outside in a cool place which can be hard to accomplish in September when I plant. I usually resort to shade cloths and low tunnels.

Cold Frame: If you prefer you can start your seeds in a cold frame, with a fine rich potting soil and compost mix. This eliminates the need for hardening off, but can also slow germination and growth. If a thermometer inside the cold frame says 70F, it’s ideal for sowing.

PLANTING/COMPANIONS/GROWING

I succession plant cauliflower, meaning I plant in early March and again in Mid march so the harvest is staggered and I don’t have 40 heads of cauliflower to eat or freeze in a week.

For fall crops here in SW Missouri, I plant in mid September, and every 2 weeks after that until November. If I do have low tunnels for a winter garden, I’ll plant through November.

When ready to plant, I usually prepare the soil a little by loosening it with a 3 or 4 tine cultivator, incorporating a granular fertilizer such as Tomato Tone, and Root Sheild granules or Soil Guard to prevent fungal diseases.

Plant your cauliflower at 12″ spacing, either in rows or block groups. Bury up to the top of any stem so they don’t blow around in strong winds and break off.

They grow every well with herbs, onions, and root crops like beets or radish. The herbs or onions can help repel insects, too. Having a root crop near will warn me if soil pests like nematodes are present, being evident when I pull the roots for harvest.

Water your transplants thoroughly, then water again with the Soil Restore and Bacterial concentrate to provide all the beneficial microbes and mychorrizae they will need to grow well. After that, I fertilize lightly once a month or every 6 weeks.

http://store.windcrestorganics.com/SoilGard-12G-Microbial-Fungicide-p/s-soilgard.htm

DISEASE/INSECTS

Like its cole crop cousins, cauliflower has a wide range of pests and diseases that can damage it. Everything from large catapillars to aphids, flea beetles, and root maggots will enjoy your cauliflower.

Insect row covers and silver plastic mulches can prevent and limit insect damage. If you need them, pyrethrin insecticides, or old standby Sevin will be effective on a wide range of pests.

Fungal diseases are the primary problem with cole crops, which I why I plant with Root Sheild granules or Green Guard seed treatments. If you do see powdery mildew, bacterial leaf spot and the like, there are several sprays to choose from.

A copper or sulfur fungicide, such as Soap Sheild or Bordeaux mixture are long time standards. Another option is Green Cure, or a microbial fungicide.

http://www.gardensalive.com/product.asp?pn=8066 , http://www.gardensalive.com/product.asp?pn=2325 , http://www.rinconvitova.com/inoculan.htm#Mycostop Biofungicide , http://www.gardensalive.com/product.asp?pn=66484

HARVESTING

Unless your cauliflower is self blanching, meaning the outer leaves curl over the head to protect it from yellowing in the sun, you will need to tie the outer leaves manually when the head is 3″ across.

Cauliflower is ready to harvest between 40 and 80 days depending on the variety. The head should be firm and the little florets should be tight and closed.

You can either dig and pull the whole plant if you intend to replant in that spot, or you can cut the plant off at the base below all the leaves with a sharp knife.

Some places sell a curved vegetable harvesting knife, or even a sharp hand sythe will do what you want. But be careful not to cut yourself, as the stems are thick and strong.

Then pull off all but one set of leaves closest to the head and store in the fridge. Cauliflower freezes well, but doesn’t can worth a hoot unless you harvest it when young and not quite ripe.

RECIPE IDEAS

Cauliflower is a mild tasting veggie, good most any way you cook it. The ubiquitous cauliflower soup is tasty, or combined with cheeses, in casseroles or stews as well. This pic is of cauliflower au gratin.

It works well in stir fry with snow peas and mushrooms, indian curry dishes, or as a low-carb substitute for mashed potatoes.

VARIETIES

Farmer’s extra early–a 40 day harvest makes this a very early cauliflower, and idea for repeated plantings through spring and fall. It is very heat tolerant, as well.

Because it matures fast, I can plant this variety 4 times in spring, beginning in early March then every two weeks. It is fairly slow to bolt too, allowing me the two weeks between each planting to harvest at leisure.

It does need tying to keep it from yellowing in the sun, but the sheer speed of maturing and the subsequent full freezer makes it worth the five minutes per plant.

Amazing–an open pollinated variety, it cannot be grown under insect covers but it is vigorous, heat and cold resistant, and self blanching so I don’t have to tie it.

The heads are up to ten inches across, and matures in 70 days so it can only be planted in my garden once in spring, and 2-3 times at most in fall.

It will be fine for late spring planting in cooler regions, though, and it’s large head size makes it great for farmer’s market stands. Very similar to a variety called Absolute, if Amazing isn’t available.

Snow Crown–an F1 hybrid, it can be grown under insect row covers, thankfully for me. Being a hybrid, it is very strong growing and uniform in size, up to 10 inch heads. The seedling vigor is very good too.

Mature in 50-60 days, the 2 pound heads will often need tying to prevent yellowing in the sun. Reliable and often grown for farmer’s markets, I can only plant once in spring, but because of frost tolerance the fall planting can be repeated 3 times or more.

Cheddar–a gold cauliflower! Containing beta carotene like carrots, this cauliflower is really golden, and if left untied the color will only deepen. Great fun for kids in the garden.

Mature at 70 days, it is an F1 hybrid allowing me to grow under row covers, and expect the 8″ heads to be uniform and reliable.

cheddar makes a great snacking tray with white and purple cauliflower, broccoli, and ranch dip. I can only get one planting in before it’s too hot, but there are 2-3 plantings in fall.

Graffiti–wow! Bright purple cauliflower heads, which unlike purple snap beans, will hold that color when cooked. Talk about a way to get kids to eat their veggies…

Graffiti is an 80 day cauliflower, so I can only get one early spring planting. But as a hybrid, it can be grown under row covers to keep insects away.

There is no need to tie the wrapping leaves and that really cool color ensures I plant a whole bunch of them.

Veronica–another kid pleaser, this funky cauliflower is really interesting. Alien Food, for imaginative young men! That lime green color holds through cooking, and the florets are just cool looking on a tray.

It needs 80 days to mature, so once in spring is all I can get, but fall makes up for that. It has a more nutty taste than other cauliflower, but it freezes well like it’s white littermates.

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