- Cauliflowers are a great standby crop and one of the gardener’s key favourites. They produce white curds throughout early summer to autumn but are a challenge.
- They are a great source of iron, manganese and folic acid as well as vitamins like C, B1 and K.
Cauliflowers can be a challenge to grow well, but their versatility in the kitchen and the fact that they are very good for you makes them well worth the effort.
Cauliflowers have gone through a renaissance recently. If you imagine in your mind, over boiled curds, then think again. Cauliflower is increasingly popular, raw in salads and for dipping, as a healthy alternative to rice and as a puree. Most of us have eaten it, gently steamed or lightly boiled and covered in the delicious cheesy sauce. It’s a wonderful melt in the mouth delight.
Most nutritious just lightly steamed or served raw, cauliflower is packed with nutrients and vitamins, and offers loads of valuable dietary fiber yet is very low in fat. As well as being striking with orange, yellow or purple kurds, the various coloured types all have something to offer, in the form of additional cancer fighting antioxidants. They certainly add interest on the plate.
What Is A Cauliflower ?
The cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family which are the brassicas. They contain broccoli, calabrese, brussel sprouts, mustards and other cabbages. The winter caulis are a form of heading broccoli. Unlike sprouting broccoli or summer calabrese, cauliflowers form one, large, tight flowerhead known as the curd.
If you want to grow exceptional caulis then get the soil right. They did a deep, rich soil with a slightly acidic pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. the ground needs to be firm before planting to encourage the right curds. Choose a sunny spot. With winter and spring cropping varieties which need to grow through the coldest months, choose a sheltered spot and not one with frost. A typical frost pocket is one at the bottom of a slope , where cold air collects in the winter. Cabbages, Brussel sprouts and broccoli are more hardy than cauliflowers. If overwintering is not possible, sow seeds in January for cutting in June & July.
Ensure good drainage for caulis. This is essential for winter and spring varieties. Improve heavy soils by digging to break up any hard layers persisting in the soil. If necessary add hard grit and even stones to create a drained soil. Many use raised beds as this is easier. Always allow the soil to settle for as long as possible. Avoid treading on it too much but keep it firm by some light walking. Add 2oz/sq. yard of general fertilizer such as Growmore, chicken or sheep manure pellets and rake in gently about a week prior to sowing or planting.
Sow seeds in trays or modules under glass at 13 °C from January through to May. Later sowings can be made outdoors where they are to grow in a seed bed with shallow drills about 2cm in short rows.
Once greenhouse seedlings are showing, prick them out by their first pair of leaves. The seedlings should be about 10 to 15cm tall (4-6in.) with two or even three true leaves.
Generally the plants are ready for planting outside but I also plant into trays 5cm apart or into single cell modules with one seedling per cell, to move them on further if the weather is too cold for outdoor planting. Water the trays or modules thoroughly during the day before moving into open ground.
If you are using cell trays or pots, then plant the seeds individually or in pairs into cells or thinly in seed trays or pots. In the former case, simply thin to the strongest seedling or prick into pots to move these seedlings on one they are large enough to handle. Plant carefully into cell trays or small pots. Grow on until well established and ready for planting. However, any of these grown inside will need to be hardened off by moving the plants outside during the day and bringing them back inside at night. the alternative is moving them to a cold frame to accustom them to outdoor temperatures.
I dig individual holes for any plants with a large dibber of even a small garden spade. Keep the ground as firm as possible so do not unnecessarily disturb the ground.
If you are doing outdoor sowings then prepare a nursery bed for transplanting when they are around 10-15cm (4-6 in.) high with two or three leaves, or alternately, early sowings are made in pots or cell trays to give the plants the best of starts. This is a good idea if flea beetle is an issue or where slugs and snails tend to roam. For sowing outdoors, sow thinly in a well-prepared soil ina single short row about 13mm or 1/2in. apart. Water the base of the drill prior to sowing and cover with soil. water during dry spells and remove any weeds that appear as the young seedlings develop. Any outdoor sowings are thinned to 7-10cm apart if that is the approach taken with April to June sowings.
Try to get 60cm or 2ft. between all plants (indoor or outdoor sowing) in the end including the rows for the summer and autumn varieties. Try placing plants about 2ft. 6in apart (75cm) between wintertypes as these tend to be larger plants. Some of the mini varieties such as ‘Igloo’ are better for raised beds and then for freezing. For these allow 23cm (9in.) apart and between rows and 10cm (4in.) between plants.
Cauliflowers are hungry plants so enrich the soil with plenty of well rotted garden manure or compost. Lime the soil if needed to get a more alkaline soil pH. It also helps to deter club root which is a soil-borne disease. All brassicas are prone to this disease.
Once the plants reach 15cm tall, transplant to their final growing positions, spaced the same as above. Remember digging individual holes ! The curds are cut from June through to October.
There is a case for autumn sowing where they are overwintered in a cold frame and then planted out in March for the very first cut of the season in June.
Gradually harden them off before planting out. Space the plants 45cm apart and leaves about 60cm between the rows.
Always keep the caulis watered.
Pests & Issues
Pests are a real problem for any brassicas. Caulis are no exception so be sure to use protective netting throughout the life of the cauli. Do so in the early stages and remain observant and vigilant of snails, slugs and caterpillars. Nasturtiums are grown near cauliflowers to deter cabbage white butterflies which have a nasty habit of eating through all Brassica crops. Mint is grown nearby to deflect annoying flea beetles. Keep slugs at bay by scattering slug pellets are train a hedgehog to feed around the vegetable patch. Other forms of slug control are available but I dislike the beer in a glass method as it is a waste of good beer. You can cover the whole with netting supported over the crop to keep the flying pests like cabbage butterflies and pigeons away.
Trample the soil around the plants to keep the soil firm. Add fertiliser to the bed as you firm it down. Some people use the palm of their hand but this is too soft in many cases to get a good firmness. In area where cabbage root fly is a problem then place a collar around the base of the stem. Cabbage collars are obtained from all good garden centres or online.
Caulis need regular watering and hoeing to keep the weed population down and allow insect larvae to appear on the surface. Watering also ensures the curds are not ruined by drought.
When plants appear slow, sluggish or undernourished with yellowing leaves, then feed with a liquid fertiliser containing a high-nitrogen fertiliser such as Miracle-Gro or similar to boost growth. Do this when the curds start forming.
Too much sun, rain and frost causes scorching, turning the white curds to a pale yellow and then develop brown spots. The modern varieties haveb now been developed to produce guard leaves which cover the curd as it develops and matures. Some gardeners actually bend the leaves surrounding the curd over to protect it in especially hot weather. Repeat the process for winter crops if they are exposed to frost and snow.
The curds are harvested when they appear large enough. The modern F1 varieties tend to mature at the same time and are at their best when the florettes just begin to separate. Any later and the curd is spoilt. You can cut them up into separate curds or slice them to form a type of steak slice. the mini varieties are left intact. Blanch and freeze any if they cannot be eaten there and then. Cauli flowerettes can be frozen by first blanching them and then plunging them in ice water before storing them in freezer containers.They are also stored in the fridge when wrapped in a food bag or cling film and keep well for a week or so.
Remember, the curds can be harvested throughout most of the year with the great choice of varieties. The summer types include ‘Boris F1’ which can be sown in March to April for harvesting from June to September. the Autumn types which follow on from varieties such as ‘White Step F1’ which are then sown from April to the end of May for planting out in June and harvesting from September through to November. Sowings made for winter to spring types include ‘Aalsmeer F1’ which are made from April to June for cutting from December to June the following year. The cutting time at this time of year depends on the variety. In the cold or exposed areas it is better to rely on sprouting broccoli for a winter harvest. Buy any plants from a garden centre to fill in any gaps !
Varieties To Try:-
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Cauliflower – All The Year Round: As its name suggests, this one has a long harvesting period and cabn ne sown in succession from january to June and from September or october with harvesting from June to October. A tried and trusted variety. Order seeds of All The Year Round from Simply Seeds.
Cauliflower Boris F1: A good, white-curded summer and autumn type. It is tolerant of a range of soils an poor weather conditions. Great for beginners. Buy from T&M.
Cauliflower Cendis – a good compact F1 variety with a very uniform, pure white curds. easy to harvest, with nice round frame and is suitable for high density planting. Ideal for late autumn and early winter. Please see this variety at Simply Seeds.
Graffiti F1 is a stunning purple coloured cauliflower which makes it very attractive and is a great improvement on the older purple types. The colour intensifies with exposure to light. A good source of anthocyanins which are powerful antioxidants. These seeds are available from Simply Seeds.
An open plant habit should be encouraged in cultivation – achieve this with lower than normal nitrogen inputs during production.
For a staggered harvest sow every 3 weeks during season.
F1 Cauliflower Clapton – clubroot resistant. A variety which is the first commercially available with clubroot resistance. has a very erect habit and well wrapped curd. Ideal for anyone who has had clubroot in the past. Available from Simply Seeds.
Cauliflower Freedom – a CMS version of the popular variety, F1 Fremont. It is considered one of the best varieties currently available for UK growing and is suitable for all work including standard growing. Available from Simply Seeds.
Cauliflower Maybach – an early, vigorous variety, producing high quality curds with good white colour and resistance to pinking. It has a medium to large frame which is best grown on moisture retentive soil. Please tap on Simply Seeds to obtain seeds of this variety.
Cauliflower Optimist – a hybrid autumn type which is huge and gigantic. It is hardy with good disease resistance and performs well even in cold, wet conditions. It produces high quality, dense packed curds. Please find these seeds on Simply Seeds.
Cauliflower Redoubtable – suited to production throughout the UK. It produces good uniform heads which are larger than most other Roscoff types. It is very vigorous with good habit and has a good upright habit. Please find these seeds as Redoutable on Simply Seeds.
Sunset is one of the first CMS orange varieties to become available. It performs best when grown for September and October harvesting.
The orange colour is most pronounced when used for ‘baby heads, but the colour is still vibrant in full size heads. The plants have a small compact frame.
Romanesco Seeds Navona. F1 Navona is a romanesco cauliflowers producing a uniform crop of dark green, turreted curds with no bracts. It is a vigorous vareity with good field holding properties and comes well recommended. Obtain seeds of this Romanesco type from Simply Seeds.
Clubroot Resistant Varieties To Try. If clubroot is a major issue on your soil, then try the Brassicas collection from Simply Seeds which has four resistant varieties for sowing. They include a cauliflower (cv.Clapton), brussel sprout (cv. Crispus), broccoli or calabrese (cv. Monclano) and the cabbage (cv. Kilaton).