Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea, in the family Brassicaceae. It is an annual plant that reproduces by seed. Typically, only the head (the white curd) is eaten. The cauliflower head is composed of a white inflorescence meristem. Cauliflower heads resemble those in broccoli, which differs in having flower buds. Brassica oleracea also includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, and kale, though they are of different cultivar groups.
How to grow
Plan to plant your cauliflower so that the plants will experience cool weather as they mature. Most cauliflower varieties will require about 1.5-3 months of consistently cool weather to mature properly. Ideally, the daytime temperature while the cauliflower is maturing will be around 60o F (15.5o C). This means that, depending on the climate where you live, you may need to plant your cauliflower at a different time of the year than in an area with a different climate. Generally speaking, gardeners in warm climates should plan to grow cauliflower as a spring crop, while gardeners in cooler climates should plan to grow it as a fall crop. See below for more detailed growing plans:
- For warm regions: Sow cauliflower seed in traysin early/mid fall. Transplant the seedlings to the garden in late fall or early winter for an early spring harvest.
- For exceptionally hot regions: You may need to plan to transplant the seedlings to the garden slightly earlier so that they will mature throughout the late fall and early winter for a mid-winter harvest.
- For cool regions: Sow cauliflower seed in trays in late winter/early spring and transplant the seedlings to the garden in late spring. This will produce a late summer/early fall crop.
Choose a growing site with at least 6 hours of full sun. Though they require cool weather, paradoxically, cauliflower also require a fair amount of full sun during the day. Choose a spot for planting in your garden that receives full sun and isn’t shaded by trees, tall grass, or other crops.
- You’ll also want to make sure that your growing site has ample room for your cauliflower crop. Generally, cauliflower plants will need to be spaced about 18-24 inches apart.
Choose a spot with rich, moisture-retaining soil. For a good cauliflower crop, the plant’s growth must be completely uninterrupted. This means that the plant must receive consistent moisture and have access to sufficient nutrients as it matures. A good soil makes meeting both of these requirements much easier. Ideally, your cauliflower’s soil should have the following qualities:
- High organic matter content. This enhances the soil’s ability to hold moisture.
- High potassium and nitrogen content. Potassium and nitrogen are nutrients vital for the cauliflower’s development. If these are not present in the soil, it may be necessary to use fertilizer.
- A pH of between 6.5 and 7. This “sweet” pH range minimizes the danger of a cauliflower disease called clubroot and maximizes nutrient availability.
If you can, start with transplants or grow your own indoors. Cauliflower has a reputation for being somewhat fragile. Though it’s arguable whether this reputation is earned, it is true that cauliflower plants almost always do better when they’re introduced to the garden as transplants, rather than as seeds. You may be able to buy seedlings for transplanting at a local garden store, but if not, you grow your own indoors in a planting tray from seeds. See below:
- To transplant a seedling, carefully remove it from its container, being sure not to break its roots. Make a small hole in the ground and bury the seedling up to its stem. You may want to make a shallow, saucer-like depression around the seedling to help the surrounding soil retain water. Firm the soil and water the seedling.
- To grow your own seedlings, plant each seep in its own peat or paper cup. Press the seed about 1/4 – 1/2 inch (0.6 – 1.25 cm) deep and cover it with dirt. Provide consistent moisture but don’t create waterlogged soil – this can lead to a variety of problems including root rot. You may also need to keep the soil at 70oF (21oC) with bottom heat from a warming plate.
- Transplant these seedlings as above
- Plant the seeds in rows, placing each seed 12 – 24 inches (30.4 – 61 cm) apart. Push the seeds about 1/4 – 1/2 inch (0.6 – 1.25 cm) into the soil and water the seeds immediately. As noted above, typically, transplanting is the best option for growing cauliflower crops. If however, you must plant your cauliflower seeds directly into the garden, you’ll want to start several weeks to a month earlier than you normally would to account for the extra time it will take for the plant to mature.
If you have to start with seeds, give them attentive care.
Don’t forget to water the seeds before they become seedlings. You won’t be able to see the plants before they emerge, so you may find that it is a wise idea to label the rows when you plant the seeds.
- . If the plants’ growth isn’t consistent, the final product that you eat won’t have as good of taste or texture. After planting your cauliflower plants, ensure that each receives frequent watering so that its soil is consistently damp (but not waterlogged). This usually means that the plants should be receiving roughly 1 – 1.5 inches of water per week and that the moisture should be penetrating roughly 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep.consistentaccess to moisture and nutrients or their growth won’t be consistentThe most important idea when it comes to growing cauliflower is that of consistency.
Cauliflower plants need 5 inches (2.5 – 3.75 cm) of water per week.Water consistently, providing 1 – 1.
- Note that rainfal
- This especially true in cases where cauliflower is being planted as a spring crop, as the end of the winter months usually coincide with a surge in insect populations. Some of these pests can interfere with the cauliflower’s growth cycle – others can eat the plant to ground, ruining your crop entirely, so managing these pests at the first sign of trouble is a top concern for serious gardeners.] When cauliflower seedlings are young and fragile, they are vulnerable to a variety of garden pests, including cabbage worm, aphids, harlequin bugs, and more.
Be ready to protect young cauliflower from pests.
Plant-friendly pesticides that are formulated to kill the pests attacking your cauliflower are a valuable tool. Most pesticides will contain information about which plants they are safe for use on and which pests they are designed to kill on the label.
- To prevent pests from reaching your cauliflower, try cutting old milk jugs in half and laying them over the seedlings for protection.
- l can contribute towards this watering goal. Thus, if you experience frequent rainfall, it’s possible that you may rarely need to water
- . As noted above, cauliflower requires relatively high nitrogen and potassium content in its soil. Adding these nutrients to the soil in the form of fertilizer can increase the plant’s growth. You’ll want to use a fertilizer containing nitrogen and/or potassium administered every two to three weeks.
Fertilize to supplement the cauliflower’s growth.
Blanch the head to prevent it from darkening. As the cauliflower grows, a small “head” will begin to form at the center of its leaves (note that this is sometimes also called the “curd”). For ordinary white cauliflower, if this head is exposed to light while it is growing, it will yellow and darken. Though a darkened head of cauliflower is still edible, it is less visually appealing and will have a less-tender texture. Thus, it’s important to use a process called “blanching” to keep the head pale and white. When the head is roughly the size of an egg, bend the plant’s own leaves over the head so that it is shaded from sunlight. If necessary, use twine or rubber bands to hold the leaves in place.
- Ensure the head is dry when you begin to blanch it. Trapping moisture around the head can cause the plant to rot. Don’t bind leaves so tightly around the head that air cannot reach it.
- Note that non-white varieties of cauliflower (like purple, green, or orange cauliflower) do not need to be blanched. Additionally, some varieties of white cauliflower are bred to be “self-blanching”, with leaves that naturally protect the head as it grows.
Harvest when heads are large, white, and firm. After blanching, continue caring for the plant as normal, occasionally removing the leaves around the head to monitor its growth and allow moisture to escape after watering. When the head is large (roughly 6 inches (15.2 cm) across), white, and firm, it is ready to be harvested. This can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after blanching, depending on your climate (growth is generally faster in hot weather). Cut the head from the base of the plant with a knife, leaving a few leaves attached to protect the head. Rinse, dry, remove the leaves, and enjoy.
- Cauliflower can be stored in a variety of ways. It will last for roughly a week in the refrigerator and can be frozen or pickled for long-term storage. Alternatively, cauliflower can also be stored by pulling the plant up by its roots and hanging it upside down in a cool place for up to a month.
- Make sure that the plants have uninterrupted growth. Any interruption can cause the plants to develop a head prematurely or ruin the edible part completely.
- Cauliflower requires consistent soil moisture. They need 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week; with normal rainfall, this usually requires supplement watering.
- For best growth, side-dress the plants with a nitrogen fertilizer.
- Note that the cauliflower will start out as a loose head and it takes time for the head to form. Many varieties take at least 75 to 85 days from transplant. Be patient.
- When the curd (the white head) is about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, tie the outer leaves together over the head with a rubber band, tape, or twine. This is called blanching, and it protects the head from the sun and helps you get that pretty white color.
- The plants are usually ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after blanching.
- Harlequin bugs
- Black rot
- Cauliflower is low in fat, low in carbohydrates and high in dietary fiber, folate, water, and vitamin C, possessing a high nutritional density.Cauliflower contains several phytochemicals, common in the cabbage family, that may be beneficial to human health, as well as carotenoids.Boiling reduces the levels of these compounds, with losses of 20-30% after five minutes, 40-50% after ten minutes, and 75% after thirty minutes. However, other preparation methods, such as steaming, microwaving, and stir frying, have no significant effect on the compounds.