Cauliflowers, like broccoli and cabbages are gradual growers which allows us to get on with other things most of the time whilst they slowly mature. They are a worthwhile source of vitamin C and fibre and are widely quoted for their potential cancer-reducing qualities. If you have a corner where the sun shines and there is not much going on then pop in a few seedlings and get back onto whatever it was you were doing…
Companions Rosemary, thyme, sage, onions, garlic, silverbeet
Quantity Around 2 plants per person
Let's face it cauliflower is not the most glamorous of vegetable. But it does have a great texture and this recipe gives it
Giant of Naples heirloom variety whose heads can weigh nearly two kilos. Takes up space though and time – about 200 days to maturity.
Snowball heirloom variety, very popular with tight heads (curds)
Green Macerata heirloom variety and a fast grower with tasty lime green head (curd). Ready in about 90 days.
Violet Sicilian heirloom variety with light purplish head (curd). Tasty and easy to grow. Eat raw to keep colour.
In warmer areas plant from summer to mid winter Jan-Jun.
In cooler areas plant from spring to late summer Nov-Mar.
Cauliflowers like a position in full sun that is also sheltered from prevailing winds if possible.
A rich and delicious ‘muesli’ of well-composted soil is the best pace for your seedlings. By muesli I mean that you want a good even mix of ingredients. Think of the soil itself as the oats and the sheep pellets, worm or kitchen compost, well-rotted horse manure as the nuts and raisins. Once you have dug all these goodies through your soil they should look evenly distributed. Quantity-wise I’d say about two heaped spades full of goodies dug into every square metre (about a relaxed stride by a relaxed stride) – this does depend on your soil type but for now will be a good start. For cauliflowers it is important to firm your soil with a rake once it has been dug through. Press the back of a metal rake down onto the soil and lean on it so that it gently firms the upper layer of soil. A bit like pressing the air out of a pizza dough after it has risen. This gives seedlings an importantly firm foothold and prevents them from rocking and developing loose roots that will produce a small head.
Best to plant out as seedlings – either home grown or purchased.
Sow seeds a finger tip deep in trays or punnets filled with seed compost. Keep in a cold frame, greenhouse or on a warm window sill as seeds germinate. If sowing in trays, transplant them into punnets when they have two pairs of leaves. Water to keep compost moist until seedlings have about 5 or more leaves. They are then ready for planting out.
When planting out your seedlings ensure holes are deep enough for the roots to go in straight without being bent or curled beneath. Soil should come up to just below the lowest set of leaves on the stem. Firm the soil well around seedlings once they are in. Seedlings should be spaced at least a forearm’s length apart to allow sufficient space for the crown of leaves that will, in around 12 to 20 weeks, reveal its prize.
As with Broccoli it is worth making successive plantings so that you are not inundated with more cauliflower than you can eat at one time. Spread your plantings over three week intervals.
These days the developing heads of most varieties can handle exposure to sunlight (these are often referred to as ‘self-blanching’ varieties), however some older varieties need the creamy fresh ‘curds’ (as the are called in cauliflower circles) covered – this is usually done by breaking a few leaves at the stem and folding them over the head. This can also help to protect the heads from frost and snow in colder areas.
Keep your seedlings weed-free as they grow and develop. Mulch to maintain regular soil temperature and feed fortnightly with liquid seaweed or worm juice. Ensure you firm soil and draw earth up around your seedlings – this helps to keep roots strong and firm.
Cabbage white butterflies are the number 1 pest. You can protect your brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cavolo nero) with fine mesh to stop the butterflies laying their eggs on the lush leaves (it’s the caterpillars that do all the damage) or you can arm your kids with badminton rackets and unleash them for a on spot of mobile target practice. Remove any visible caterpillars by hand and feed to garden birds or chickens. Caterpillars can also be deterred by treating leaves with Chilli spray or by giving them a dusting with household flour.
Harvest your cauliflowers one at time as they become ready. Best to cut them when there are still on the smaller side – when they are between the size of a lawn bowl and a netball. Chuck the basal leaves into the hen coop or compost bin.