By Brenda H. Reed
lthough cauliflower has the reputation of being difficult to grow, I find it as easily grown here in Texas as its close relative, cabbage. The preferred time to grow it in Texas is during the fall for a winter harvest. If you try to grow cauliflower in the spring in Texas, most years you will be unsuccessful. It is very uplifting to go to the garden on a cold December day to harvest a perfect, intricately woven, beautiful white head of cauliflower. If you ignore its reputation and give cauliflower a try, you will be rewarded with the mild, sweet flavor of this vegetable at its freshest. There are many varieties of cauliflower. You can even buy some varieties of purple and green plants. Cauliflower may be eaten raw in salads, steamed, or boiled. The meat of the cauliflower heads are called curds. The curds may "yellow" if they receive too much sun, rain, or frost. So the varieties that are not self-blanching will need you to secure the plants’ long leaves over the cauliflower heads to insure beautiful white heads. Cauliflower is a great source of vitamin C, potassium, protein, phosphorus, and very high in fiber when eaten raw.
Use transplants instead of direct seeding cauliflower in the garden. Set the transplants out about eight or 10 weeks before the average frost date in your area. Transplants are reasonably common here, so you can purchase them from your local garden center if you don’t want to raise your own. If you do grow your own transplants, set them out in flats four to six weeks before the date you intend to plant them in your garden. You can plant several varieties of cauliflower with differing dates of maturity so you can extend your harvest and not have to use all of your cauliflower crop at once.
Cauliflower prefers deep, humus-rich soil with a good supply of water and high humidity. Prepare your soil by working into it organic matter such as compost, bark, wood ashes, and manure. Barnyard manures should be aged before adding to the garden. Rabbit and chicken manures are good ones to use. Cow manure is good but just don’t overdo it, as the manure may cause a buildup of salt in the soil. If your soil is acidic, it should be sweetened up by adding lime. Insert the transplants into the garden, spacing them 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Plant only as deeply as the transplants are as they are removed from their containers. If you overcrowd cauliflower, they may not be able to reach their full potential. Provide two or three plants for each family member. As you plant, put about a cup of root stimulator mixture into each hole along with a teaspoon of bonemeal to get the plants off to a robust start with strong roots and stems. Mulch each plant with hay to prevent soil erosion and to add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
Cauliflower needs rich soil and adequate moisture for peak production. Feed them with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer every two or three weeks until the point of production. Then feed them with a good water-soluble fertilizer. Keep the soil moist. Replace mulch as it deteriorates and pull weeds away from the plants.
Pests and Diseases
To reduce susceptibility to pests and diseases of the Brassica genus, which includes broccoli, cabbage, and turnips, do not grow cauliflower in the same soil as it or other brassicas were grown in the prior year. The cabbage looper is the worst cauliflower pest around. You must be persistent when dealing with these leaf-chewing worms. They will eat a plant to the ground in a short span of time. You can handpick them from the plants if they aren’t too thick. Also, at the first sign of these bothersome pests, use Bacillus thuringiensis, or BT, a biological insecticide. It must be used every week without fail, and you need to spray the undersides of the leaves as well as the tops. You must reapply the spray after rain, as it washes off the plants. This is a slow-acting remedy but a good one. The worms must eat the treated leaves in order to be affected by the BT. It can take several days for you to begin to see dead worms. But, if you are persistent with using the BT and handpicking, you can save your crop. Black rot and downy mildew are diseases that can affect your plants here. They usually occur when there are prolonged periods of rain or when crop rotation wasn’t practiced. They can be treated with an approved fungicide. If you are attentive to your cauliflowers’ needs, you will have strong, beautiful plants that produce very well. The first indication that the plants are producing is the inner leaves. The very small ones right in the center of the plants begin to fold over to cover a little white button of cauliflower. This is the point at which you should "blanch" the cauliflower heads if they are not a self-blanching variety by pulling the long outer leaves up over the head. Fasten these leaves together with a clothespin or tie them up with a string to block sunlight from the developing heads, therefore preventing yellowing. Leave the cauliflower like this until the heads are fully developed. They should reach full maturity within two to four weeks. Cut the heads from the plants when the heads are full and compact.
Preserving Your Harvest
If you have a good crop of cauliflower, you may need to put some of it away for later use. There are a couple of ways to do this. They freeze very well. Separate the flowerettes, wash them well, and put them into boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove them from the boiling water, then put them into ice water for a few minutes. Drain them well and put them into freezer containers and into the freezer. The other way of preserving cauliflower is to make some giardiniera.
Andes (68 days, very adaptable, self-blanching).
Snow Crown (60 days, resistant to yellowing, tolerant of heat and cold).
Snow King (50 days, 8 to 9 inch heads, heat tolerant).
Willhite Seed, Inc.
P.O. Box 23
Poolville, TX 76487
Park Seed Co.
1. Prepare jars and lids for canning. Fill canner halfway with water; cover canner and heat to simmering over high heat.
2. In large bowl, combine cauliflower, red peppers, carrots, celery, and olives. In a non-reactive 4-quart saucepan, combine sugar, vinegar, water, and salt; heat to boiling over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low.
3. In each hot jar, place some mustard seeds and crushed pepper; pack vegetables tightly into hot jars to within 1/2-inch of tops. Immediately ladle simmering syrup over vegetables to within 1/4-inch of tops, making sure vegetables are completely covered with syrup. (Keep syrup simmering while filling jars). Wipe jar rims and threads clean; cover quickly with lids and screw bands on securely but not too tightly. Process in boiling water bath for 20 minutes; cool jars and test for airtight seal. Makes 5 pints.