Growing Cauliflower

Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Cauliflower

Cauliflower
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Cauliflower is a sun-loving, cool-season crop to grow in spring and fall. It can be a temperamental plant in the garden because it does not tolerate heat or cold—so it’s not best for beginners unless you like a challenge! See how to plant, care for, and harvest cauliflower.

This vegetable’s name comes from the Latin words caulis, for cabbage, and floris, for flower. It’s a descendent of wild cabbage! Though usually white, cauliflower does come in other colors including purple, yellow, and orange.

Cauliflower can be a challenge for the beginner gardeners because it requires consistently cool temperatures with temperatures in the 60°Fs. Otherwise, it may prematurely “button”—form small, button-size heads—rather than forming a single, large head.

 

Planting

  • Soil needs to be very rich in organic matter; mix aged maure and/or compost inot the bed.
  • Cauliflower also needs extra nutrients. Apply 5-10-10 fertlizer. Fertile soil holds in moisture to prevent heads from “buttoning.”
  • It is best to start cauliflower from small nursery plants versus sowing seeds.
    • If you seed, start 4 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date. Sow in rows 3 to 6 inches apart and up to ½ of an inch deep. Water consistently during germination and growth.
  • Transplant seedlings (or small nursery plants) 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date, no sooner and not much later.
  • Set plants 18 to 24 inches apart with 30 inches between rows.
  • In early spring, be ready to protect plants from frost by covering them with old milk jugs, if necessary. Extreme cold can halt growth and/or form buttons.
  • Plant a fall crop 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost date but after daytime temperatures are regularly below 75°F. Shade plants from heat, if necessary.
  • Add mulch to conserve moisture.

Care

  • Cauliflower dislikes any interuption to its growth. Change, in the form of temperature, moisture, soil nutrition, or insects, can cause the plants to develop a head prematurely or ruin an existing one.
  • Water regularly with 2 inches of water each week; even with normal rainfall, this usually requires supplemental watering.
  • For best growth, side-dress the plants with a high-nitrogen fertilizer 3 t o 4 weeks after transplanting.
  • Note that the cauliflower will start out as a loose head and that it takes time for the head to fully form. Many varieties take at least 75 to 85 days from transplant. Be patient!
  • When the curd (the white head) is 2 to 3 inches in diameter, blanch it: Tie the outer leaves together over the head and secure with a rubber band, tape, or twine to keep light out. (This is not necessary for self-blanching or colored varieties). The plants are usually ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after blanching.
  • Brown heads indicate a boron deficiency in the soil. Drench with 1 tablespoon of borax in 1 gallon of water. (Avoid getting boron on other plants.) Or, provide liquid seaweed extract immediately; repeat every 2 weeks until symptoms disappear. In the future, add more compost to the soil.
  • For white varieties, pink heds can indicate too much sun exposure or temperature fluctuations. Purple hues can be due to stress or low soil fertility.

Pests/Diseases

Harvest/Storage

  • Plants are usually ready to harvest in about 50 to 100 days, depending on variety, or 7 to 12 days after blanching.
  • When the heads are compact, white, and firm, then it is time to harvest them. Ideally, the heads will grow to 6 to 8 inches in diameter.
  • Cut the heads off the plant with a large knife. Be sure to leave some of the leaves around the head to keep it protected.
  • If the heads are too small, but have already started to open up, they will not improve and should be harvested immediately.
  • If the cauliflower has a coarse appearance, it is past maturity and should be tossed.

Storing Cauliflower

  • Store heads in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should last for about a week.
  • For long-term storage, you can also freeze or pickle the heads. To freeze, cut into 1-inch-bite pieces. Blanch for 3 minutes in lightly salted water. Cool in an ice bath for 3 minutes, drain, and package. Seal and freeze.

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
-Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Recipes

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Growing Cauliflower

Botanical Name Brassica oleracea
Plant Type Vegetable
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Loamy
Soil pH Slightly Acidic to Neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones
Special Features