While cauliflower isn't exactly one of the "cool kids" in the garden, it has its place, usually on a vegetable tray with broccoli, carrot sticks and ranch dressing. But it's also at home cooked in soup, mixed with other vegetables. Or left raw and mixed in green salad, or in a crunchy, mixed-vegetable with bacon and sunflower seeds salad. However you eat it, cauliflower can become a favorite and welcome break from everyday mixed greens.
When to Plant
There are two possible growing season for cauliflower in our area.
February: Plant seeds and grow at at cool temperatures for about 10 weeks till they are ready to transplant in April or May (showing 6 to 8 true leaves). Harvest in the summer.
Late summer: Sow starts directly in the garden after the high seasonal heat has broken, from mid-July to mid-August; harvest then comes in fall and even into winter.
Things to Know Before You Grow
Plant your cauliflower in soil with a high organic content and plenty of calcium, 2 feet apart with 2 to 3 feet between rows if you plant a lot. Soil pH should be 6.0 to 7.0. When you're weeding and tending the garden, keep in mind that cauliflower has a shallow root system. It's best to mulch to keep down weeds, so you're not disturbing your cauliflowers' roots while digging out weeds.
Cauliflower is a little persnickety about temperatures and growing conditions. It doesn't like hot and cold swings, drought, being soggy or being in the shade. The idea is to get it growing and keep things as stable as possible: don't plant before it's warm enough, but also don't plant too late, or the temperature will be too warm for it to mature nicely. Keep water consistent--not too much, not too little. Fertilize with a nitrogen fertilizer 3 to 4 weeks after the cauliflower's in the ground, about halfway to maturity.
Blanching Your Caulifower
It's odd to think of cauliflower as being strongly flavored, but that's exactly what you'll get if you don't blanch (by which we mean "cover"--not the cooking method) your cauliflower heads. This process is to help keep the buds tender and mild in flavor, as well as super white in color. Sure to start blanching when the heads are 2 to 3 inches across. If you're into the purple varieties, you don't need to worry about blanching your cauliflower.
The easiest way to get this done is to crack the stem of a leaf and fold the blade over the cauliflower head. You can also use clothespins to hold tips of leaves together or sometimes you might be able to simply tie them together by hand. Leave a little room for air circulation so moisture doesn't collect and encourage rot. It's important to note that some cauliflower varieties take care of this process themselves, but there is often no harm in going through the process anyway.
Most varieties of cauliflower will be ready to harvest within 4 to 8 days of blanching.
Pests and Baddies
Protect your cauliflower against root maggots and cutworms. We advocate a chemical-free method like cutworm collars, or the root maggot mat, which will also protect aginst cutworms. If you do use chemicals, use them carefully and in small amounts.
Plant them in full sun to encourage growth, and watch long-term weather predictions so you know when to transplant after the wide temperature swings of early spring. Cauliflower will be stunted ("button") if exposed to freezing and warming swings in temperature. Harvest your caulifower heads before they mature too much; overripe cauliflower develops a coarse texture that's frequently referred to as "ricey."