Cauliflower

Gardeners Guide to Growing Cauliflower

Brassica oleracea          Cauliflower Seeds           Soil pH 6.0-7.0


Cauliflower is a cool-season crop in the brassica family (cole) , which also includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, and kohlrabi.

Many gardeners are afraid to try planting cauliflower, it requires a tad more care and precise timing than most other vegetables, but overall Cauliflower is not a tremendously difficult vegetable to grow.

It is sensitive to temperature extremes. It is a cool-weather crop, and won’t produce heads in hot weather. Cauliflower does best in temperatures in the 60s.

In immature cauliflower plants there is a fine balance between foliage and head growth, naturally the head or curd is the part we want to grow best.

Stress on the plant tends to promote premature heading, and the plant make useless tiny button-sized heads. This occurs during temperature extremes too hot or too cold. Premature heading (buttoning) can also occur if hampered by drought or poor soil.

Cauliflower is frost tolerant only when it matures in the fall. Most varieties need up to 2 months of chilly weather to completely mature. A few varieties will mature in as little as 4 weeks, while others require over 3 months. To successfully grow cauliflower you should

1. Choose the correct variety for your climate
2. Plant at the correct time
3. Provide a regular supply of moisture.






Planting

Like all cabbage related crops, cauliflower needs a nitrogen rich soil and potassium, with sufficient organic matter to retain moisture. In warmer climates, plant in fall or late winter to ensure an early spring harvest. In colder areas, cauliflower will do best as a fall crop.

You can start cauliflower directly in the garden, if you'd like, but your germination and survival rate will be low, especially if you don't time the planting properly. Cauliflower seedlings started indoors perform best.

The Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0 , 6.5 to 6.8 is best to discourage clubroot disease.

Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep, 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date for your region.

Always consult the seed packet as planting depth and maturation rate varies from cultivar to cultivar. Provide steady moisture for seedlings but don't drown them or completely saturate the soil for extended periods. During germination try to keep the soil temperature around 70°F.



Seedlings need to be hardened off before transplanting them to an outdoor environment. Space the seedlings into the ground about 15 to 24 inches apart. Make a shallow mote around each plant which will hold water. Firm the soil so it won't be easily washed back into the mote. Water the seedlings thoroughly. A Floating row cover to prevent insect pests from damaging young transplants isn't a bad idea either.



Growing guidelines
Provide at least an inch of water weekly, soaking the soil to about a 6 inch depth.

Cauliflower needs steady moisture to produce desirable large, tender heads. Dry spells or lack of moisture and dry soil will cause the heads to split and acquire an undesirable “ricey” quality.

A thick layer of organic Mulch or compost will help the soil retain moisture and also suppress insects . Try not to disturb the cauliflower roots during weeding, damaged roots will produce uneven growth. Young plants should get a light feeding with fish emulsion about every third week to accelerate growth.

When the heads are about the size of a golf ball partially shading out the sunlight is necessary as too much sun will cause them to turn a yellowish brown and loose not only some flavor but also appeal. The process of shading the cauliflower plants is called "blanching". Blanching is not necessary in varieties that produce colored heads - orange, purple etc... only the white ones. There are also some self-blanching varieties, which have leaves that will naturally shroud the head.

Prepare plants for blanching when the plants are completely dry, moist heads are susceptible to rot. Wrap some of the plants’ own leaves around the head and tuck them in on the opposing ends, secure the leaves with soft twine, or plastic tape. Use enough leaves to keep out both moisture and light but not so much to prevent air circulation to the heads {curds}.

Once you've begun the blanching process be sure to avoid splashing water on the heads or leaves, a Drip Irrigation system is best for this scenario, but not always feasible. Unwrap occasionally to check on growth, search for pests, or to allow heads to air out after a rainfall.

 

Problems

Crop rotation, proper garden sanitation, and selecting resistant cultivars will prevent most cauliflower diseases.

Diseases

Black leg

Black rot

Club root

Fusarium wilt

Cabbage Loopers

Slugs

Cabbage root maggots

Aphids

Flea Beetles


A boron deficiency in the soil will cause cauliflower heads to brown and the leaves will become distorted and die back slightly. If you suspect a boron deficiency use a teaspoon of Boric acid diluted in a gallon of water to apply to the plants ASAP. Follow up with Liquid seaweed extractSeaweed extract, and repeat every 2 weeks until the symptoms disappear.

See Plant Nutrient Deficiencies

 

Companion Plants

Potatoes, celery, dill, chamomile, sage, thyme, mint, pennyroyal, rosemary, lavender, beets, onions are all good neighbors to cauliflower.  Avoid planting near to, or in direct succession with Rue or Strawberry.       Also See Companion Planting


Harvesting and Storage

Mature cauliflower heads can be anywhere from 6 inches to 12 inches round. Harvest when the buds are still tight and unopened. Cut them off directly below the head, along with some leaves to protect the head. Use them or preserve them as soon as possible. To store plants , pull them out by the roots and hang them upside down in a dry  place.

If you neglect to harvest your crop before a heavy frost - no problem, the heads will still be edible unless they thaw and refreeze . Harvest the frozen heads and cook them right away.

 





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