Growing cauliflower can be a challenge. It requires the right climate, constant growing conditions and even some extra work if you want those genuinely white heads. In addition, you should watch for the crop to mature while fighting off diseases and pests.
On the plus side, cauliflower isn’t only pretty in the garden, but it has got a mild taste that’s amazing raw or cooked in the kitchen. And as you must hand-tie the leaves of these older types to blanch the heads and keep them from scalding in the sun (and creating an unpleasant flavor), modern varieties are self-blanching.
White is your recognizable cauliflower colour, but you can also find orange, green, blue and purple heads. A number of them are decorative, but some are edible.
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The New York Botanical Garden
When to plant: For fall gardens, sow seeds or set out transplants in midsummer (such as cold-winter climates) or summer months (such as mild-winter climates). To plant in spring, start seeds indoors eight to ten weeks before the last frost. (In mild-winter climates, you can sow cauliflower seeds at that moment.)
Days to maturity: 55 to 100
Light condition: Total sun; supply light or partial shade if it’s very hot
Water: Regular water; do not let soil dry out
Favorites: All Year Round, Bishop, Cheddar, Denali, Early Snowball, Fremont, Graffiti, Panther, Snowball Imperial, Snow Crown, Veronica, Violet Queen, White Corona
Planting and care: Cauliflower likes rich, well-amended, well-draining soil, constant water and ambient temperatures in the 60s with some humidity. (California’s coastal climates are ideal.) If something goes wrong, it worries the plant, and also the resulting heads are modest. Plant it throughout the ideal growing season for your region and supply constant care.
Sow seeds about a half inch deep and an inch apart, then thin to 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart. Set transplants. Fertilize if you plant, then continue to fertilize while growing. Weed gently so you do not disturb the roots.
Blanch heads as soon as they reach about 2 inches wide by folding the largest outer leaves on the head and securing them in place with ties or elastics. Try not to get the heads wet as soon as you’ve started the blanching process.
Pests and diseases can be a problem. Rotating growing locations can help, but you may run into anything from aphids, cabbage insects, flea beetles and harlequin bugs into black rot clubfoot, damping off, downy mildew and fusarium wilt. Watch your harvest carefully and take preventative steps if you see any problems.
Harvest: Harvest when heads are full size and company but not yet separating or forming separate florets, typically about a week or 2 after you start blanching. Check frequently, as cauliflower evolves fast. Cut the stem of the plant just below the head, leaving several leaves intact.
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