Cauliflowers are scientifically referred to as ‘Brassica Oleracea‘, which means we can all be thankful scientists aren’t in charge of commonplace jargon. Jokes aside, cauliflowers are related to the cabbage family, but with a little bit of broccoli and brussels sprouts thrown in. Not to mention, cauliflowers have their own distinct nutty taste and are basically edible flowers (hence the name). Apart from being available in various colours, cauliflowers are also jam-packed with essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins C and K.
Many gardeners think of this vegetable as their very own Mount Everest – because it’s not exactly the easiest of crops to grow. But, scaling this mountain isn’t all too difficult if you know what you’re doing. That’s precisely why we’ve brought you this stellar guide about how to grow cauliflowers at home like a pro. All you have to do is go through this article to discover everything you need to know about cauliflower plants. Ready?
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A bright purple or yellow cauliflower with beautiful tight curds is a thing of beauty. Nonetheless, you can’t walk into your local nursery and ask for cauliflower seeds based on colour. That’s not how gardening works. There are many varieties of cauliflowers available, but thankfully, there are only three main types that you need to know about: summer, autumn, and winter.
- Summer cauliflowers can be seeded in cold frames in September, in January (indoors), in April (outdoors), and you can even harvest some by early summer (June, July).
- Autumn cauliflowers are divided into two categories: large and compact. These mature a little late, by October or November.
- Winter cauliflowers are a type of ‘headed’ broccoli; these are easier to grow than the summer and autumn varieties. Although, you should note they don’t taste much like their other counterparts. These crops can take around 40 to 50 weeks to mature.
Other notable cauliflower types include:
- Cheddar or Flame Star: We don’t know if the moon’s made from cheese, but these orange variety cauliflowers certainly look like they are. These are creamier and sweeter compared to the white ones.
- Snowball: If you get the chance, you should try your hand at the ‘Snowball’ variety – they give out a good yield during the growing season and are medium-sized with 6-inch heads.
- Graffiti: One of our all-time favourites. These purple cauliflowers aren’t just beautiful to look at; they taste pretty good too.
If you plan your gardening schedule just right, you may be able to eat cauliflowers every day from March to November with no problem at all. It’s also a good idea to research the kinds of cauliflowers seeds available in your area and which ones you should attempt based on gardening skill level.
How to plant cauliflower
You may already know how to grow broccoli, sweet potatoes or even coriander, but what about cauliflower? You can sow cauliflower seeds indoors about one month before the last frost date. Cauliflowers don’t like having their roots disturbed in any way, which is why you can use paper pots or peat to ensure that moving them to the vegetable garden won’t cause stress. If you miss the frost date, that’s not a problem. You always have the option of starting off with small nursery plants from your local nursery instead.
Once your seedlings are ready, you can plant them in your garden about a centimetre deep and at least 30 cm apart. If you’re planning when growing more than one row, the distance between each row needs to measure around 50 cm. Ensure the soil you choose to plant your start seeds in is moist and rich in organic matter (like potting compost or mulch). The temperature needs to be anywhere between 18 to 21 degrees Celsius for proper growth.
During early spring, you may have to protect the plants with proper insulation (milk jugs, etc.) to keep them from buttoning. Conversely, if you’re planning a late summer or fall crop, you should sow cauliflower seeds approximately two months before the first frost date of the fall. Although cauliflowers need full sun exposure, planting in the partial shade can keep the plants from bolting – which is why you should also have some row covers just in case.
Always keep in mind that cauliflowers thrive in fertile soil, and you can achieve this in several ways. You can utilise a high potassium fertiliser or turn to aged manure to make sure the earth has enough nutrients to allow for seamless growth. Interrupted growth due to fluctuations in temperature, nutrient levels, or other factors can lead to deformed and small-sized heads.
If only gardening involved planting seeds and watching them grow. The truth is a gardener’s work is possibly multiplied when dealing with cauliflower needs. Understanding the ABCs of post-planting for the Brassica family‘s diva – the cauliflower is just as essential as knowing how to plant it.
Watering plants the right way is always important. You should provide your plants with a good portion of water every week. Aside from that, you should also make certain that at least 10-15 cm of the soil is adequately moist. Heads tend to turn bitter with inadequate watering, and that’s something you certainly want to avoid. In the late summer or hot weather, leaving the soil dry for prolonged periods can cause the heads to look grainy instead of forming compact curds.
Cauliflowers need a soil pH that’s between 6.0 and 7.0. These plants love moist soil but also need it to be well-draining with abundant organic matter. You can also boost growth by using a nitrogen-rich fertiliser – one month after transplanting the seedlings. Harvesting cauliflowers takes some time, and that means you may have to encourage supplemental nutrients. Try giving the plants fish emulsion or kelp to give them all the nourishment they need.
Cauliflowers may be partial cool weather, but that doesn’t mean they can take the frost. The plants don’t do well in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. That’s one of the reasons why you sow seeds in the fall or the spring. If the temperatures start rising before the summer peak, try adding mulch to the soil to keep it moist and cool.
It’s ironic if you think about it. White cauliflowers need to be blanched (kept out of the sun) to remain white, while orange and purple cultivars need to soak up the sun to attain their hues.
If you don’t want your white cauliflower to turn an unattractive shade of yellow-brown (the taste isn’t affected all that much), then you’re going to have to go through the blanching process. The whiteheads can be blanched when they’re about the size of a large egg, and you can do this by covering the head with the leaves and tying it off with a rubber band or twine. Ensure the fit is not too tight or too loose (you want to block the light but leave the head with room to grow).
A much easier way to blanch your cauliflower is to cover it with an upside-down bucket. That way, you can block off the sun and check on the head to check on its health and growth with ease.
Common pests and diseases
Remember when we said a lot of gardeners compare growing cauliflowers to scaling Everest? Yeah, bugs and pests have a lot to do with that. As hardy as the cauliflower looks, it’s prone to a treasure-trove of infestations by undesirables like cabbage loopers, maggots, and cabbage worms.
Birds and groundhogs love munching on the vegetable too. Young seedlings are susceptible to flea beetles and aphids, even more so in springtime.
If that wasn’t enough, cole crops (fancier word for cauliflowers) are also prone to diseases like clubroot, black rot, and blackleg. But, before you start heading for the exit – you can take care of all these problems by planning and being prepared. After all, gardening and farming are all about the next big adventure.
Harvesting and storing cauliflower
Growing cauliflowers isn’t about instant gratification because most varieties can take almost 60+ days to fully mature. If you’re all set to go ahead with your cauliflower project, remember to pick the type that’ll give you enough time to harvest before the winter truly sets in.
If you’re lucky enough to experience a moderate climate, you can even try your hand at transplanting seedlings in the summer and harvesting in the fall. It all depends on your circumstances primarily.
In an ideal world, where all cauliflower heads measure 10-15 cm – that’s the perfect time to harvest them. Otherwise, you can reap when the heads appear firm, compact, and the exact hue they’re supposed to be. All you need to do is cut the heads off (that doesn’t sound right) with an adequately-sized knife.
Putting off harvesting for too long can make the flowers open – which isn’t at all recommended. You can store the cauliflower heads in the refrigerator for about seven days. If you want to keep a supply that’ll last longer, cut the head into smaller sized florets and freeze them in an air-tight bag.
Take this opportunity to up your gardening game and take on a worthy contender. We promise you there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction you feel when you harvest a perfectly grown cauliflower that you cultivated from a tiny little seed. Then there’s the fact that cauliflowers are extremely healthy and go exceptionally well with all types of dishes from cuisines around the world. It’s a win-win situation all around.