Varieties | Sowing | Transplanting | Watering | Harvesting | Pests
Why grow cauliflower - one might ask when it is available cheaply in the shops year-round. It takes up space and needs a certain amount of looking after but it is a very satisfying crop to grow - those large creamy heads grown by your own hand are a wonder to behold. Besides, there is no shop-bought cauliflower to compare with a head cut in the garden and cooked within minutes.
Summer cauliflower is easy to grow. The seeds can be sown outdoors now and transplanted in about six to eight weeks. There are varieties for sowing in spring that crop in late summer and others that mature into late autumn. The crop takes up a little space, compared to other vegetables and it needs to be grown in good conditions for best results.
The idea is to grow the crop without any setback, sowing the seeds in good conditions in the first weeks of April and transplanting during moist, warm weather in June. If it gets a setback, a phenomenon called ‘buttoning' occurs when the curd develops prematurely and very small. This can be got around by sowing a few seeds directly at the final spacing and thinning out to one good plant.
There are many varieties of cauliflower and new ones appearing all the time. However, many of the newer varieties are F1 hybrids, which means they have been bred for uniformity. This also means uniformity of maturity and it often results in two dozen heads ready in the same week. The older varieties, such as ‘All Year Round' are more forgiving in this area and this is a very reliable variety for late summer and autumn from a succession of sowings. ‘Autumn Glory' is another old favourite, later maturing.
The seeds can be sown into fine soil in a seedbed, or they can be sown in little pots in a greenhouse or tunnel if the weather outdoors is not amenable.
Cauliflower must be transplanted while it is quite small - three expanded leaves is about right. Take care to lift the roots with soil attached in a little ball. It is a good idea to lightly thin the rows of seedlings as soon as they emerge to make space between them for lifting without much disturbance. The ground should be quite rich and the location open to the full sunshine. Plant out at about 40 to 50 cm apart each way.
Water immediately after transplanting and two or three days later. Also water during any dry spell of more than about five days especially in July/August.
Start to cut and use cauliflower as soon as the first heads are not much more than fist size. These early heads are very tender and it will help to spread the crop over a longer period. As the curds get bigger and become visible among the leaves, bend over some leaves, snapping the mid-rib to cover the curd and prevent it yellowing in the sunlight.
Cauliflower is subject to cabbage family pests especially cabbage greenflies, which cause serious damage if they attack young plants, and caterpillars. Horticultural fleece is useful in preventing the latter.