Prized for their creamy white color and distinct flavor, cauliflowers are somewhat fussy to grow. They require certain specific conditions and take up a fair amount of space in your beds. But with the proper care and room to grow, cauliflowers are a nutritious addition to your table.
Baked, boiled and steamed as a side dish, cauliflower can also be served mashed like potatoes or be chopped fine and mixed into casseroles and even baking. Besides the standard white, they are also purple cauliflower available and different varieties will provide a crop at different times in the season.
Cauliflower is actually a member of the cabbage family, but is a little trickier to grow than the rest of them.
Best Soil for Growing Cauliflower
The soil for your cauliflower patch needs extra special care. Dig up the garden deeply long before the planting season begins, likely late in the autumn before. Mix organic matter such as compost into the soil as you dig through. Create a patch of loamy, well drained soil for the best yield.
Cauliflower prefers a neutral soil but slightly alkaline will also work. If you add lime to change the levels, be sure to do so at least 6 weeks after adding the compost.
Plant your cauliflower plants in a cooler section of your vegetable patch where they will be exposed to partial to full sun and kept out of extreme heat. To find this area of your garden, notice where the snow lingers in winter before melting away.
When to Plant Cauliflower
Start your cauliflower plants in the greenhouse about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. The seedlings will sprout and after being hardened, can be planted in the well prepared bed once that final frost has disappeared.
How to Plant Cauliflower
When starting your cauliflower in seed pots, sow just under the soil surface and keep evenly moist in warm air. Once they’re ready to be transplanted cauliflower plants need a lot of space in the garden. Plant them in rows with 18 to 24 inches between each one and about 3 ½ feet of space between rows.
Fertilize the plants right after transplanting for a good start.
Proper Care of Cauliflower
Since it’s very particular, your cauliflower plant will need steady, even growing conditions to thrive. Keep the soil moist, but be careful not to overwater. Use mulch to maintain a constant level of moisture and deter weeds from invading. Any stress that the cauliflower is put under will result in “buttoning,” which means the head growth will be stunted.
If the garden gets too hot, cover the cauliflower with leaves to bring its temperature down.
When to Harvest Cauliflower
This depends on the variety of cauliflower you planted, but harvest should happen once the cauliflower has grown to its full size. To spread the crop out a little, try harvesting some when they are still on the smaller side, some at full maturity and a few just beyond. It may still be close together, but this method will eliminate a massive crop all at once.
Be sure to harvest before the florets on the head have begun to open. Once that happens the head will start to discolor and the flavor will seep away, leaving you empty handed.
How to Harvest Cauliflower
Cauliflower grows in a hard bunch at the center of the vegetable, similar to a broccoli. But unlike broccoli, cauliflower will only grow one head. Once it’s been harvested you can rip up the plant and compost.
Cut off part of or all of the head from the stalk of the cauliflower with a sharp knife. If you only need a small part of the head, make sure to leave a few leaves behind to protect what’s left.
Inside, hang your cauliflowers upside down and keep it moist with misted water. You can store your cauliflower for up to three weeks this way.
Common Cauliflower Pests and Diseases
The cabbage fly is a common enemy of the cauliflower. Cabbage Fly discs are actually sold on the market and can be placed around the base after it has been planted. Cabbage worms can also hang around and cause damage. Planting aromatic annuals and herbs around the border of the garden will help to keep these pests away.
Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Cauliflower
Cauliflower plants will thrive if planted in the right conditions and if those conditions are maintained throughout the growing season. Don’t be surprised if you lose a few plants or if the cauliflower doesn’t develop as expected. Growing cauliflowers may take some practice. Prepare the soil well in advance, keep it moist and don’t let the plant get too hot. This will result in the optimum crop for your table.
Nutritious and delicious for your menu, cauliflowers will be well worth the effort once they’ve been harvested. You’re bound to find many uses for them and find yourself looking forward to the challenge of growing cauliflowers in your home garden.