Follow these tips for growing cauliflower to harvest large heads. Learn about the conditions a cauliflower plant needs to grow well and how to grow this vegetable from seeds.
In a hot climate, success with cauliflower is virtually impossible. This is a cool season vegetable that produces large white heads, called curds that may weigh in excess of two pounds. A member of the cabbage family, this plant can be a bit temperamental to grow.
To cultivate a cauliflower plant successfully you must pay strict heed to the proper growing conditions.
You may plant cauliflower at two times of the year:
right before the last frost of the year and at the very tail end of summer for an early fall crop. This plant grows best in cooler climates and in moist, well drained, nitrogen rich soils. A daily high temperature no higher than 80 degrees is most beneficial.
Most people will advise against starting cauliflower plants from seed, but instead to purchase starter plants online or from your local garden
center. If you pre-order your plants online they will be sent out to you at the correct time depending on your USDA climate zone (US only).
If you attempt to grow the plant from a seed, bury the seeds in flats from a half to three quater inches deep and at a spacing of two to three inches in a controlled environment like a greenhouse. Arrange them in rows that are three to six inches apart.
The seeds absolutely must be kept moist and warm or they won't germinate. Usually four to six weeks growing time is necessary before transplanting them into your garden but it varies a bit depending upon the variety.
Soil conditions: Growing cauliflower requires a slightly acid soil with a pH of approximately 6.5. Till the soil to a depth of 10 inches and add manure or compost and nitrogen fertilizer.
The transplanted seedlings need to be set 18 inches apart in rows spaced 30 inches apart. Also, care should be taken to prevent the leaves from wilting since this will damage the plant.
After initially watering the sets, cover them with mulch to retain the moisture. Growing cauliflower requires one inch of water per week. Also, growing cauliflower needs to be in full sun for at least six hours per day, however too much heat or cold will seriously affect the quality of the curds.
Add a nitrogen rich fertilizer every three weeks during the growing of the plant and weed around them very carefully and only when necessary to prevent root damage.
Blanching cauliflower: Growing cauliflower plants need to be blanched to protect the cauliflower head from the sun. Blanching involves tying the outer leaves over the head of the cauliflower plant when the head is about three inches wide. Failure to do this will result in the head from turning yellow or green and acquiring a bitter taste.
Harvesting cauliflower: Harvest when the head is approximately six inches in diameter. This should occur within two weeks of blanching but you will need to untie the leaves and check the growth of the curd every couple of days. Cooler weather could increase this time and warmer weather decrease it.
If you do not pick the cauliflower in time, the head will begin to turn to seed. When the head is compact and firm, harvest it by simply cutting the main stem. Depending upon the variety, your cauliflower should be ready for harvesting in 50 to 70 days.
Some common natural enemies of growing cauliflower affect the curds and sometimes the leaves of the plant. The Imported Cabbage Worm hatches from eggs deposited on the plants by the Small White Cabbage butterfly. When the eggs hatch, the worms attack the heads. Sometimes covers may prevent the butterflies from laying their eggs and insecticides will kill the worms.
Cabbage Looper moths also lay eggs on the plant, which hatch to feed on the curds. The Diamond Back Moth is another predator that lays eggs on the underside of the leaves. The larvae feed on the leaves.
The disease known as Brown Head is caused by sunlight on the wet curd that forms a mildew that will curtail head growth.
Different varieties may be easier to grow under different conditions and in different areas. Some of the different types include:
The harvesting and planting schedules for growing cauliflower greatly varies depending on the climate of the growing region.
Successfully growing cauliflower requires the proper conditions. You should test your soil to be certain of the proper pH and adjust your soil throughout the growing cycle. Moisture is vital to the sustained growth of the plants, and the proper temperature range is critical. This is not a plant it and forget it crop, but with care, you can grow large healthy cauliflower.
Photo: Linda N.