If you are interested in farm fresh cauliflower from your own garden, considering that there are hundreds of varieties to choose from, the first question is where to begin. The best place to start is with a freshly harvested seed. Selecting seed stock rather than seedlings allows the gardener to know exactly what variety they are working with. Part of the cabbage family, cauliflower has its own unique challenges to overcome in order to enjoy a successful harvest. Although there are many cultivation methods that lead to success with every variety, the differences between some cauliflower varieties can result in cultivation failure if you don’t know exactly what’s growing in the garden.
Varieties: A garden’s geographic zone, season, gardening experience, available garden space and what you desire in recipes may all be things to consider when choosing seed stock from cauliflower varieties. For example:
A cool season strain preferring temperatures in the 60’s Fahrenheit. This variety produces vibrant shades of violet indicating its rich antioxidant properties. It may look like a gorgeous garden ornamental but it is actually a culinary masterpiece rich in nutrients. Better yet, it tastes as good as it looks having a mild flavor with a hint of nut and typically less bitter than traditional white cauliflower.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, half your daily requirement of Vitamin C can be enjoyed with just half a cup, along with a healthy dose of fiber, vitamin A and plenty of other nutrients.
Preferred by the more traditional vegetable gardener and chef who is attracted to a pure white floret. Also a cool weather crop, Snowball proves hardy and easy to grow. A classic staple in American gardens for more than two centuries, it will seem right at home in the ground and on the table. With tight, compact heads, expect an abundant harvest of florets that preserve well even in the freezer.
Although hardy enough for planting in areas with cool springs and mild winters, this variety is as attractive to insects and wildlife as it is to farmers. Take care to protect your crop! As a raw food, its mild flavor makes it a favorite vegetable of choice, particularly as a complementary choice to mix in with other vegetables.
Preparing Soil: Once seed stock has been selected, it is time to give soil the attention it is due. It should be loamy, drain well, and rich in organic matter. Soil enrichment can include organic additions such as cottonseed meal and composted manure.
Sowing Seeds: When soil is ready, it is time to sow seeds. Seeds can be started indoors or outdoors, but this choice will affect when seeds are sown.
- Sowing Indoors: About 4-6 weeks before last expected frost, fill starter pots with prepared soil and sow seeds at 1/4″ depth. Seedlings will be ready to transfer outdoors in about 6 weeks. Before transplanting, increase outdoor exposure of potted seedlings gradually over a one week period.
- Sowing Outdoors: Spring crops should be sown before last frost. Fall crops should be sown in mid-summer. Till garden, remove competing weeds, and sow seeds an average of 8-10 seeds per 12″ at a 1/4″ depth along row lengths (10′ rows are optimal). As seedlings emerge, thin as necessary until spacing between strong, healthy plants is about 18-24″.
Spacing: As seedlings emerge in the garden, or are transplanted from starter pots, make sure soil meets the lowest set of leaves. Space seedlings about 18-24″, depending on particular variety’s expectations for crown size. Rows should be sufficiently spaced to create an easy walking path, about 30-36″. There should be plenty of room for a showy crown and its surrounding leaves.
Watering: Seeds will need to be watered after being sown. Water seeds daily to assure adequate moisture for germination. Cauliflower seedlings and mature plants will need constant water moisture, about 1.5 inches weekly if measured in rainfall.
Enrichment Boost: Compost tea is a great way to boost enrichment. As a gentler, organic method of fertilizing, it is a great way to start off new seedlings. Mid-season, give plants a boost with another round of compost dressing and water with compost tea.
Growth Expectations: Germination of seeds usually occurs within 7-14 days. Both varieties grow to an impressive 24″ height with a leaf spread of about 12″.
Cultivation Tips: Certain garden companion plants may compete for nutrition. Avoid planting cauliflower with potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes. Cauliflower will do better with garden companions like peas, beans, celery and oregano. To avoid an inundation of harvest-ready cauliflower, stagger starter plantings over a 2-3 week period. Introduce earthworms and other beneficial insects such as ladybugs.
Sunlight Tips: Cauliflower needs about 6 hours of sun daily. There are two different ways cauliflower manages catching some rays. A self-blanching variety, like Snowball, can handle direct sunlight quite well. Purple Sicily produces what is commonly called “curds”. This means the crown needs a bit of sun-block. Simply break off a few leaves at the base of the stem and fold them over the crown as some natural shade. This can also be done for protection for both varieties should an unexpected frost be in the forecast.
Harvest: Most cauliflower varieties are ready to harvest in about 80-90 days. Snowball heads can reach a diameter of 6-8″ while Purple Sicily can produce enormous showy crowns weighing as much as 3 pounds. Harvesting crowns is simple. Cut at the base of the stem. Garden fresh cauliflower should be cleaned before culinary use, storing in the refrigerator or prepared for long-term storage in the freezer. When cooking Purple Sicily, don’t be surprised to see it transform into a bright green color!
Common Pests: Aphids, flea beetles, armyworms, slugs, cabbage webworms and loopers are pests that commonly plague cauliflower. Holes in leaves and plants that lack vigorous growth may indicate unwanted guests in the garden. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a popular organic method of controlling these types of pests.
Common Diseases: Over-watering might lead to bacterial soft-rot, noted by darkened crowns and slimy liquid that exudes from lesions on its surface. Blackleg is a fungal disease that most commonly affects young seedlings. It can be recognized by darkened margins around leaves and dead patches developing on leaves. Black rot is a pathogen carried by insects. Dull yellowing of leaf margins will first appear then slowly spread to the midrib of the leaf, giving the leaf a scorched appearance.
Good garden hygiene is the best protection against disease in your cauliflower crop. Avoid splashing water on leaves by watering at the base. Be diligent at monitoring crops for insect infestation, promptly treating aggressively to rid your garden of any pests. There is nothing so fulfilling as enjoying your own harvest. We can help you deliver fresh vegetables from your own garden directly to your table!