Brassica oleracea var. botrytis
By SCMG Stephanie Wrightson
While cauliflower can be grown in the spring, it does best as a fall-winter plant. Cauliflower takes 80 to 110 days from planting to harvest, depending on the variety chosen. Late varieties are not recommended for home gardeners. Ideally, sowing seed should have occurred in July-August. Depending on your microclimate, you may have success direct seeding an early variety the first of September. But there is still time for everyone to transplant cauliflower in September. For more information, refer to the Sonoma County Master Gardener Vegetable Planting Summary.
The California Master Gardener Handbook recommends the following varieties:
‘Snow King’ and ‘Snow Crown’ (hardy in most areas and resistant to most diseases)
‘Snowball Y’ (while ‘Y’ is the most successful, ‘Snowball A’ matures early).
When transplanting cauliflower, select seedlings with at least four to six true leaves and bury them to the first leaf. For four persons, plant 10 to 15 plants. Cole crops like well-drained soil; a raised bed is ideal. Cauliflower should be spaced 18 inches apart when planted in rows, with 25 inches between each row. To avoid build up of diseases, it is best not to plant cole crops in the same spot year after year.
Normally, there few weather issues and insect pests when growing cauliflower in the fall. If weather is unusually hot, you can protect maturing cauliflower heads by using floating row covers. Also, you can tie up leaves to keep heads white -- sunlight exposure can cause the heads to yellow.
Water cauliflower deeply by drip or furrow irrigation to encourage deep rooting. But, avoid wetting foliage with overhead watering or over-wetting the soil. Water stress adversely affects curd development – “curd” being the white portion of the head. The Sunset Western Garden Book warns that uneven watering likely will cause premature setting of undersized heads.
Harvest cauliflower as soon as it reaches maturity. Leaving it in the garden too long can result in flower buds opening, reducing the edibility of the plant. The heads of mature cauliflower are at least 5-6 inches in diameter. Loose or protruding floral parts with a ‘ricy’ appearance are a sign of overmaturity.
Cauliflower is relatively perishable. When refrigerating, store heads in a single layer and leave the jacket leaves on the head until use. Set the humidity level of your vegetable bin on high if your refrigerator has this option. Do not store cauliflower with apples, melons and tomatoes: ethylene produced by this produce will accelerate yellowing of the cauliflower head.
Cauliflower is a low calorie, nutritious vegetable. A half-cup serving is only 12
Cauliflower tastes wonderful roasted in the oven. Cut cauliflower into florets, spray with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes in a 400-425ºF oven (test with a fork for desired doneness). Experiment with various flavored oils, sauces and seasonings. Use cauliflower in vegetable soups, prepare it as a casserole, serve it raw as a “dipper” for appetizers or chop and add it to green salads. My German grandmother threw cauliflower into a pickled mix of vegetables, hard boiled eggs and pigs’ feet!