Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) is one of the healthiest vegetables to eat, and one of the most temperamental to grow. Most commonly found in white color, cauliflower also comes in varieties of purple, green and orange (high in beta-carotene). What makes cauliflower a bit tricky to grow? The weather. As a well-known American writer once said, “While everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.” We may not be able to “do anything” about the weather, growing cauliflower could be one of the most rewarding challenges we could take as gardeners. Here are a few tips for a successfully growing cauliflower this season.
Fact: "Commonly found in the white color, cauliflower also comes in purple, green or orange"
Cauliflower requires cooler daytime temperatures than other crops and will not do well in hot or dry weather. Although it will tolerate some cold in spring, it prefers daytime temperatures in the 60s (Farenheit). Once the heads have matured, they won’t tolerate a hard freeze. If you have prolonged temperatures that are too cold or too hot, cauliflower may end up “buttoning” (forming in separate button-like shapes) rather than forming one solid head. The takeaway here is that you’ll want to plant in spring early enough to beat the approaching heat of summer, but not too early that they’re susceptible to freezing.
Best time to plant transplants: About 2-4 weeks after the last frost in spring.
Tip: Wash out and save milk or juice bottles ahead of growing season cover individual plants to protect them from temperatures that dip too low after transplanting. You can also use row covers for protection.
Start seeds indoors about 4 -6 weeks ahead of your expected planting date. Seedlings will need a lot of light, so using grow lights is an optimal way to grow seedlings successfully. You can directly sow seeds, but it needs to be early enough in the growing season and be at a time that provides at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Starting growing cauliflower indoors can often be more predictable to get them off to a good start.
Transplant in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun about 2-4 weeks before the last frost. Space plants about 18-24 inches apart in rows about 30 inches apart. Early varieties can mature in 50-55 days with other varieties taking about 75-85 days from transplanting.
Soil should be well-drained and be rich in organic nutrients. Add nitrogen-rich amendments and compost for a nutritional boost. Test your soil for pH, which should be between 6.5-6.8.
If planting cauliflower in the fall, transplant about 6 -8 weeks before the first predicted frost. Be sure your daytime temps are consistently below 75 degrees Fahrenheit before planting.
Tip: If you want to keep white cauliflower nice and white, be sure to provide some shade. If you are growing cauliflower variety with long leaves, when the head is about 2-3 inches in diameter, use elastic bands to secure the leaves to the head to provide shade. This is known as “Blanching.” You can use string instead of elastic bands, but the elastic will expand as it grows.
The cauliflower head should be firm and compact when mature. Cut the head, leaving some outer leaves attached to help protect it and prolong it. Soak the cauliflower head in salt water for about a ½ hour to rid if of any insects or cabbage worms that could be dwelling inside. Wrap cauliflower in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator for about a week or two.
I think every gardener should throw themselves a big challenge from time to time. Make growing cauliflower your next challenge. Whether you grow it yourself or buy it at the market, give my Simple Cauliflower Soup recipe a try for a great-tasting, easy-to-make creamy soup (without the cream).
This soup has only a few ingredients and minimal work involved.
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, sliced into thin strips
1 head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces
4 cups water
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
Kosher salt to taste
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