Cauliflower belongs to the Cole, or cabbage, family but isn’t as easy to grow as cabbage. The delicious taste and versatility it provides in your diet is well worth the extra effort; some people even consider cauliflower a delicacy! Cauliflower is a cool-season vegetable that can be planted a week or two before the last frost in early spring. You can also plant in summer for an early fall crop. Taking the time and effort to understand the climate and soil conditions cauliflower does best in– before you plant– will go a long way toward ensuring success in growing this vegetable.
Cauliflower grows best in fertile, well-drained, consistently moist soil. It needs to be planted in full sun (at least 6 hours a day. The optimal pH level for cauliflower is between 6.0 and 7.0. The soil should be high in both organic matter and nitrogen. Cauliflower is finicky about the climate it grows in. Either too much cold or too much heat can affect the quality and quantity of the heads. Because the weather is so difficult to predict, this balancing act can be hard to manage. There may be seasons when your cauliflower produces better than others simply because of the climate.
Good soil preparation is important when planting cauliflower. The best way to determine your soil conditions are to have a soil test performed. Your local university extension office can perform a soil test. To locate your nearest extension office, go to http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/.
If your soil is lacking in organic matter and/or nitrogen you can add manure or compost to the soil along with a nitrogen fertilizer during planting. Fertilizer can be applied two more times during the growing season at two-week intervals. Make sure the soil is well cultivated to a depth of at least 8-10 inches before planting.
Cauliflower is usually transplanted from seedlings to the garden. The plants can be purchased from a nursery or garden center. You can also sow the seeds directly into the garden (after the last frost date) or start the seeds indoors about six weeks prior to transplantation.
Transplant the seedlings 18 inches apart in rows that are 30 inches apart. Water the seedlings immediately after transplanting; any wilting could permanently damage the plant. Another way to ensure a good crop is to choose active, healthy plants that have had continuous, steady growth. Buying plants that have been stunted or in flats for too long are prone to producing poor, or no, curds. After planting, apply a top mulch to preserve moisture and prevent the soil from drying out and cracking.
Care for Cauliflower
Cauliflower plants must have consistent moisture; make sure they receive at least an inch of water per week and do not let the soil completely dry out. Healthy curd development results from continuous and vigorous growth. Anything that halts or slows the plant growth will potentially lead to little or no head development. Common interruptions can include too little moisture (drought), plant damage, or extremes in weather.
How to Blanch Cauliflower
Cauliflower heads (or curds) need to be blanched. This process involves tying the outer leaves together to cover the curd when the heads have about 2-3 inches of growth. Blanching prevents the heads from damage from the sun, turning green and obtaining an “off” taste. There are varieties that “self-blanch” and naturally curl their leaves to cover and protect the developing head.
Depending on the variety planted, cauliflower takes between 50 and 70 days to mature.
Once the leaves have been blanched, and if growing conditions are good, the curds develop and mature within 7-10 days. Look for full, compact, firm, white heads. To harvest the heads, simply cut the plant at the main stem (leave a few outer leaves for protection) before the heads begin to have a “ricey” appearance; by then they are overly mature and will not taste good. Another sign that your cauliflower is past its prime and will begin to quickly deteriorate is the formation of single florets. After harvesting your crop, you can dispose of the plants in your compost pile, as cauliflower does not usually produce side shoots or a second crop. Cauliflower, like most garden vegetables can be frozen for later consumption. Make sure to blanch them first then place in the freezer immediately after draining and drying.
Cauliflower diseases and pests
Some problems you may encounter when growing cauliflower include:
Imported Cabbage Worm: These are white or yellow “butterflies” that have black spots, and attack cauliflower curds. These pests begin causing trouble in April and continue until September. The butterflies lay eggs on the cauliflower which later hatch into worms which feed on the heads. Covers can be used to prevent this, or insecticides if needed.
Cabbage Looper: are gray-brown moths with silver markings on its’ wings. They lay eggs on the leaves of the cabbage and feed on the leaves and continue to the heads.
Diamond back moths: These moths lay eggs on the underside of the leaves close to the veins. The larvae are green and feed on the leaves from the inside out. These moths are grayish-brown and have three diamond shapes on their body, for which they are named after. They originate in the south and migrate to northern states later in the season. Treatment of the Cabbage Looper and Diamond Back moths are similar. You can cover the crop or use an insecticide if necessary. Cleaning up all debris at the end of the season, after harvest and when leaves drop is also important.
Brown heads: can be caused by downy mildew, or direct sun when water is on the head/curd.
Varieties of Cauliflower
Some recommended varieties to try are:
- Snow Crown
- Snow King
- Snowball 123
- Imperial 10-6
Common Questions and Answers About How to Cook With Cauliflower
Are cauliflower leaves healthy?
Cauliflower leaves are edible, healthy, and actually very tasty, believe it or not. Every 100 grams of cauliflower greens contains 40 mg of iron. It is also a good source of potassium and dietary fiber, which promotes intestinal health, boosts the body’s immune system and limits water retention. In addition to being an excellent source of iron, potassium, and fiber, cauliflower leaves are also rich in both free-radical fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients. Cauliflower leaves are also low in calories and stimulating, making them a natural appetite suppressant and energy booster.
Are cauliflower leaves poisonous?
Cauliflower leaves are edible, healthy, surprisingly tasty, and not at all poisonous to humans or animals.
Can you eat cauliflower raw?
You can eat cauliflower raw, which involves very little preparation. Simply wash the heads and chop it into one to one and a half inch pieces. You can snack on them by themselves or eat them with a dip, like ranch, hummus or vegetable dip. Cauliflower can also be cooked and enjoyed in a number of different ways, such as steaming, roasting, sauteing, or tossed into soups or stir-fries.
Can you eat cauliflower that has bolted?
Cauliflower that has bolted is still edible, but only if you pick it and harvest it immediately. Once cauliflower bolts, it begins to turn bitter and unpalatable if left in the ground. However, if you pick it as soon as you notice it flowering, it will still be tasty and perhaps a bit more tender than normal cauliflower heads.
Can you plant broccoli and cauliflower together?
Opinions are mixed about whether or not broccoli and cauliflower should be planted near each other. While they are both members of the same family and therefore, share many traits as well as growing requirements, it makes a lot of sense strategically to grow them close to each other. However, the two vegetables also share common pest problems, so planting them close together makes it easy for pests to attack both crops at the same time. Because of the shared pest concern, it is probably best to plant broccoli and cauliflower in separate areas of the garden to avoid multiple infestations due to planting proximity.
Do you only get one cauliflower per plant?
Each cauliflower plant only produces one large cauliflower head. Once the head of the cauliflower plant is harvested, it does not produce the smaller, lateral heads that broccoli does if you leave the plant in the ground.
Does cauliflower come back every year?
Cauliflower is an annual plant that reproduces by seed. It does not come back year after year if left in the ground. Once the head has been harvested, it will not develop any new, edible heads and should either be removed, or left in the soil to produce seed.
Does cauliflower count as a green vegetable?
Cauliflower, despite its white color, is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Cauliflower is a great source of iron, vitamin C and K, folate, fiber, and potassium. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and does count as a dark green vegetable, even though the heads are white. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that adults consume 1.5 to 2.5 cups of dark green vegetables per week, which includes cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower.
Does cauliflower grow back after you cut it?
Once the heads of the cauliflower plant have been harvested, it will no longer develop any new, edible heads and can either be pulled up and discarded, or left in the soil to produce seed.
How can you tell if cauliflower is good?
As cauliflower is starting to turn, the first signs are tiny light brown spots forming on the outsides of the white heads. If you see these spots forming, they can still be consumed, just cut off or scrape off the discolored areas and use them normally. However, once these spots start to spread and take over the head, or the heads start to turn dark brown, black, or mushy, it is no longer usable and should be tossed out.
How do you fertilize cauliflower?
To fertilize cauliflower plants, either pre-treat the soil with a dry, time-release fertilizer, or feed plants once per month with a soluble, time-release fertilizer.
How do you grow cauliflower in hot weather?
Beyond germination stage, cauliflower detests hot weather. In areas with moderate summer heat, white varieties that do reasonably well include ‘Snow Crown’ and ‘Amazing’; for color, choose ‘Cheddar,’ ‘Graffiti,’ and ‘Vitaverde’. In extreme heat and/or humidity (the Southeast, Deep South, and Florida), none perform well unless transplanted after the hottest part of summer has passed.
How do you protect cauliflower from insects?
Common signs of an insect infestation are holes in leaves, tracks on foliage, missing vegetation, and stunted growth. Common cauliflower pests include aphids, flea beetles, slugs, snails, leafhoppers, and several types of insect larvae. Insecticidal soap or oil is often used in controlling bugs on cauliflower plants. Smaller insects, such as aphids, can be knocked off of the plant with blasts of water from the garden hose. Slugs and snails have to be picked off of the plant by hand or otherwise dealt with by spreading diatomaceous earth, which is also the recommended method for controlling flea beetle infestations.
When should I plant cauliflower?
Plant your cauliflower seeds outdoors when temperatures reach 50 degrees F or start seeds indoors one month before your last average frost date. Plant seedlings one month prior to the last average frost date to harvest in the spring. For fall harvests, plant seedlings around six weeks before the last average frost in your area.
When should I start cauliflower seeds?
Directly plant cauliflower seeds outdoors when temperatures reach 50 degrees F, or start your seeds indoors about a month before the last average frost in your region. Alternatively, for an easier start, you could opt to purchase seedlings which are ready for transplant from your local nursery or garden center. Plant seedlings about one month prior to the last average frost date in your climate if you want to harvest your cauliflower in the spring. For fall harvests, plant seedlings around six weeks before the last average frost in your area.
Where did cauliflower originally come from?
Cauliflower is believed to have originated in the Medeterranean region as most wild varieties are found there. It originated on the island of Cypress. From there, it traveled to Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Spain, and northwestern Europe.
Where is cauliflower grown best?
Cauliflower grows best in a location with full sunlight exposure. If planted in the shade, it will develop much slower and form a smaller head.
Which fertilizer is best for cauliflower?
For fertilization, mix a dry, time-release fertilizer into the soil prior to planting, or feed your cauliflower once per month using a balanced, water soluble fertilizer.
Why are my cauliflower heads turning brown?
If your curds are gradually turning brown during their growth cycle, this is usually caused by a boron deficiency in the soil. If deficient, add a half ounce of borax per 24 square yards of soil.
Why does cauliflower turn purple?
Assuming you did not plant one of the purple cauliflower varieties, your cauliflower turning purple is a sign of too much sun exposure. To avoid this problem, blanch your cauliflower plants by pulling the outer leaves around and over the head and pin them in place with string or a clothes pin. Make sure to tie them loosely so that the head has room to expand.
Why is my cauliflower growing weird?
There are several common problems when growing cauliflower. If your cauliflower leaves have scorched margins, it is usually a sign of a soil deficiency, typically overly acidic soil. Have your soil tested and amend it if necessary. If your curds are gradually turning brown during their growth cycle, this is usually caused by a boron deficiency in the soil. If deficient, add a half ounce of borax per 24 square yards of soil. If the heads of your cauliflower plant are loose and yellowish, it is usually because of too much sun. Lift and tie the outer leaves over the head to provide sun protection.
For a complete list of problems and solutions to cauliflower growing problems, consult this webpage: Harvest to Table.
Why is my cauliflower hairy?
The lengthening of the leafy floral bracts of the bud or flower on a cauliflower plant gives the surface of the curd a fuzzy or velvety appearance, usually developing around the edges of the curd before appearing on other portions. The cauliflower is not adversely affected except in appearance. The defect has no bearing on the taste of the cauliflower.
Why won’t my cauliflower form a head?
If your cauliflower plants won’t form a head, it is most likely due to environmental stress. Potential stressors for cauliflower include overly cold soil or overly cold air temperatures during the spring, lack of sufficient water or nutrition from depleted soils, root bound plants, and insect or disease damage. If you address the conditions that are stressing out your cauliflower plants, they will surely form heads once they are free of stress.
Will cauliflower grow back?
Cauliflower can only be harvested one time. After the head is removed, it will not form any more edible heads. If you can’t get enough cauliflower, extend your harvest by planting several different varieties that mature at different times.
Want to learn more about growing cauliflower?
The University of Hawaii Extension has extensive information on cauliflower diseases and pests.
Ohio State University Extension put together a fact sheet about growing home garden cauliflower from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.