Yet another member of the cabbage family and my favourite. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and not just the standard white that you may be familiar with. The Cauliflower “curds” that are the part that is usually eaten, are in fact a clump of flower buds. If these are left fully protected from frosts to continue growing, they will split up into a mass of individual little yellow flowers much loved by bees.
Most of the Cauliflowers “head” or the curds become ready for eating, in late Summer or Autumn. There are some varieties that will “head” in Spring when there is not much else ready to pick. These varieties have to be very hardy to survive the Winter and then spring into growth as soon as the weather warms up. Sometimes after a very hard Winter of frost, snow and storms, they seem to be little more than stumps, but given some good weather they spring into life.
It is possible to steam the smaller leaves surrounding the curds, just as you would do for cabbage. If you do not pick the curds in time and they start to form into buds, you can still pick the buds and cook as if they were sprouting broccoli.
The ground should have been prepared well in advance to allow it to become quite firm and give the plants some stability to resist the wind. Dig in manure, if available, in the late Autumn.
Sow the seeds in March for Summer and Autumn “heading” varieties, or April for over wintering types in individual cells or pots in a cool greenhouse. In the North of the UK, transfer them to a cold frame in May and plant them out in their final positions in May or June, about 45 cm apart. In the South of the UK, you can try sowing the seed in April directly in a seed bed, before transplanting into their final positions in May or June. It is best to transplant your cauliflowers on a dull, cloudy day and water the plants in well. If you try and transplant them on a hot, sunny day, they will loose so much moisture that they will droop through stress from lack of water. If you really have to transplant on a sunny day, try and provide some shading with netting or fleece.
Protect all plants immediately after planting. If you expect to have problems with cabbage root fly, fit collars made from a 15 cm square of old carpet underlay. Cut a slit in the underlay square, halfway through. Then fit it onto the Brassica with the stem in the middle of the underlay square. Sprinkle slug and snail pellets around the plants, or fit plastic tubes to prevent slug attack. Finnish off by erecting medium mesh netting, about 1 cm square, over and around the plants to fend off cabbage white butterflies. Remember that the plants can grow up to 1 m high when fully grown.
Using these physical protective measures to protect your plants, will eliminate the need for pesticides.
Regularly inspect the growing plants to make sure that no slugs, snails or cabbage white caterpillars have managed to get into your protective cage. If you spot an infestation of large aphids, either “squish” them or dislodge them with a hose or spray with a suitable pesticide. Water as necessary in hot weather in the evening. When the curds start forming, many growers fold over some of the leaves to protect the curds from the sun.
Pests and diseases. Cabbage root fly, slugs, snails, aphids and the cabbage white butterfly have all been discussed above.
Pigeons. These birds can strip the leaves from over wintering brassicas. Therefore defeat them by leaving the netting protecting your valuable crop.
Clubroot can also be a problem in some locations. Clubroot is a fungus that can live in the ground for many years and will immediately infect any new cauliflowers planted in infected soil. It causes the roots to become swollen and distorted and the cauliflowers are stunted. There is no cure but measures can be taken to limit the effects and the spread of the disease.
Be very wary of buying-in plants that are not growing in sterile soil, such as peat. You do not want to bring in contaminated soil to your plot. Much better to grow your own plants from seed using sterile soil.
Sprinkle a handful of garden lime round the planting position, if you know that there is a clubroot problem in the soil.
A plant gown in a small pot of sterile compost and then transplanted, will most likely succeed even in contaminated soil.
Always burn the roots of brassicas after cropping. Never put the old roots into a compost heap as this could transfer clubroot to other areas.
Suggested varieties of Cauliflowers for Summer and Autumn heading.
Romanesco. In seed catalogues you will find it either under cauliflowers or broccoli or even calabrease. In any event, it is the best tasting variety, with the lime-green curds arranged in a spiral of symmetrical cones, rather like a fractal. It is very surprising that it is seldom seen in the supermarkets. It is slightly smaller than the standard cauliflower.
Graffiti F1. Medium sized heads coloured a deep violet-purple. Could be used raw with a dip.
Panther. Medium sized heads coloured light green. Could be used raw with a dip.
Suggested varieties of Cauliflowers for Spring heading.
Purple Cape. This is an old variety producing medium sized heads coloured purple. Proved to be hardy in the Glasgow area.
Short term storage. Best cooked as soon as possible, but will keep for a few days in a fridge crispator.
Long term storage. Can be broken into florets, blanched and frozen. However, when defrosted, the texture is spoilt.
CAULIFLOWER (Brassica oleracea Botrytis group)
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