Cauliflower; A Showy And Finicky Brassica

Cauliflower is less tolerant to heat than most other brassica crops. If the heads mature in the heat of late spring or early summer, they are apt to be bitter, if they even head at all. The ideal time to plant cauliflower is in late July or August. Attempting cauliflower in spring is a gamble at best. If you can set out transplants about a month before your last spring frost, but remember that spring planted cauliflower runs a higher risk of failure.

To maximize your chance for success, select varieties that are quick maturing and disease-resistant. Cauliflower should be grown fast and be harvested early. Besides, the plants require much garden space, so you want them in and out of the garden fast.

The real key to successful cauliflower is in proper soil preparation. Cauliflower likes a deeply tilled soil that's rich in organic matter and contains plenty of nitrogen (N), which is essential for developing tasty, larger heads. During fall garden clean-up, I plant a winter cover-crop of winter-rye in the cauliflower bed. In the early spring, this is turned under. I also work in manure enriched compost. A soil rich in organic matter also enhances moisture retention without waterlogging the roots.

Another important consideration is soil pH. Cauliflower prefers a near neutral pH ( around 6.5 to 6.8) for best production. A neutral soil also prevents clubroot, a disease that commonly attacks brassica crops. Be sure to have your soil tested to see if limestone is required.

I always start our own plants from seed about a month before transplanting time. I try to transplant them on a cloudy day. It's particularly important not to disturb the root system when setting out the transplants. Any check in growth; transplant shock, drought, high temperatures, will cause the plants to bolt, forming a small button instead of a full head. Each plant we transplant is donked in a mixture of liquid seaweed before being placed in the soil, this prevents stress and transplant shock. A successful crop of cauliflower depends on constant pampering. Proper spacing will increase your yields significantly. I plant cauliflower in wide beds, spacing the seedlings at least 20-inches apart each way. This generous spacing produces larger heads and bring the plants to maturity faster. There's also less air

circulation and thus a higher risk of disease problems.

If the roots don't have a constant, even supply of moisture, there will be a check in heading. Cauliflower should receive 2-inches of water per week, and a little more as the temperatures rise.

Once the plants are established in the garden, I mulch them with 6-inches

straw. An organic mulch not only retains soil moisture, but hinders weeds, keeps the soil temperature cooler, and eventually breaks down to add nutrients to the soil.

If your cauliflower wilts even when the soil is moist, you can bet that insects are attacking the root systems. This is usually the dreaded cabbage root maggot. The tiny larvae burrow into the roots just beneath the soil surface, eventually killing the plants. I repel the insects by dusting the mulch with wood ashes before each watering. This also repels aphids and cutworm

Nothing can ruin a bed of cauliflower faster than the insidious cabbage worm. The easiest way to handle these insects is to spray the plants with BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis), a natural insecticide that kills only butterfly and moth larvae. It's nontoxic to humans, animals and beneficial insects. Spray your cauliflower once a week at the first sign of the worms, applying BT in the early morning or evening so the worms will eat it before it dries completely.

Conventional varieties of cauliflower require blanching (excluding sun light from the developing heads) for the whitest, mildest curds. When the heads are slightly smaller than a teacup, I simply pull the larger outer leaves over the tops and bind them with rubber bands or loose twine. I check the heads every day or so to make sure they don't overdevelop. Normal blanching takes about a week, but it may take up to 2-weeks in fall's chillier weather. The only problem with this method is that the tied leaves often trap rain water, which could rot the heads. To prevent this, untie the leaves on rainy days to allow the water to run off.

To avoid the chore of blanching, try some of the self-blanching varieties. Their leaves naturally curve over the head and do the job for you.

Copyright · 1995 Growing Vegetables