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March 2008
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Growing cauliflower

Cauliflower is part of the cabbage family along with broccoli, turnips, and brussels sprouts. Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea, Botrytis group) is also called “heading broccoli”. It is a type of cabbage that originated in southern Europe. For many gardeners, cauliflower is one of the most temperamental crops to grow in the vegetable garden. Unlike broccoli which produces side shoots for additional harvests, there is only one opportunity for a good crop with cauliflower because the plant produces only one head. The head, sometimes referred to as a “curd”, is formed from shortened flower parts at the top of the plant.
There are several reasons why cauliflower can be tricky to grow in a home garden – most of them due to environmental factors. Too much heat prevents the cauliflower head from forming. Cauliflower must be grown at a continuous, steady rate through it entire life, from seedling to harvest. Anything which slows or stops its growth, such as insects, lack of water, or excessive heat or cold, may prevent development of the head.
It is important that cauliflower be planted early. It should be planted about three to four weeks before the last spring frost. If cauliflower is left to mature in the heat, it can acquire a very bitter taste. Cauliflower thrives in cool weather and can withstand light frosts. Flavor improves with cooler temperatures because plant cells are working to convert starches to sugars to protect the plant against the cold. The result is a sweet, fresh taste that surpasses that of store-bought heads. Cauliflower does not tolerate wide temperature fluctuations very well.
Your first priority when you first learn how to grow cauliflower is to make sure you give them a rich and deep soil during the growing season – with no check in the cauliflowers growth. They require a firm, fertile soil as the main cause of failure – button heads – is loose, infertile soil. This is where a fairly heavy soil is an advantage to the vegetable grower. Try choosing a bed that is in a reasonably sunny spot in which to plant your cauliflower vegetables.
If you are not doing crop rotation and your soil is poor, dig in plenty of well rotted compost or manure as early in the autumn as possible in order to give the the soil maximum time to settle. Acid soils encourage club root, a terrible disease of the brassica family which gardeners fear, so make sure you add lime to get a pH of about 6.5 to 7.0.
Sow cauliflower seed into flats, cells, or soil blocks of soil-less mix. Avoid crowding the seeds. Provide 1-1/2″ to 2-1/2″ square inches per plant. Ideal temperatures for cauliflower growth are between 45°F at night and 65°F during the day. Begin hardening off the seedlings seven days before transplanting. Transplant cauliflower plants at 6-8 weeks, 4 weeks before to 2 weeks after the last spring frost. Cauliflower seedlings should be 18″ apart with 24″-36″ between the rows.
Keep cauliflower plants evenly moist; especially when they’re small, they need about 1 inch of water a week, whether from rain or the garden hose. Apply a fertiliser just after planting out. Put Cabbage Root Fly discs around the base of the plants to help prevent cabbage fly damage.
Cauliflower likes room to grow. Plants should have 18″ between them with 24″-36″ between the rows. Cauliflower grows best during sunny days with air temperatures of 70 F. If temperatures are above 80 F. during curd formation, leaves may form in the head, it may become rough in texture, or have a purple or green coloration.

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