For many backyard gardeners, growing cauliflower can be a rather difficult task. This nutritious plant is very temperamental and requires undisturbed, continuous growth for the head, or flower, to develop. As a result, growing success is often influenced by several environmental factors, including temperature, insects and moisture. Some gardeners will even set a few cauliflower plants out every week, hoping that at least a few of them will get the proper weather conditions.
A cool season biennial which is grown as an annual, cauliflower requires full sun and regular water. The soil should be rich in organic matter and nutrients. To prevent insect and disease problems, avoid planting in spots where other brassicas have been grown the previous three years.
How to Plant:
For spring crops, plant from nursery cell packs or sow seeds indoors ten weeks before last frost. If using transplants, use only seedlings with a tiny bud in the center. If a bud is not present, the plant will not form a head. If planting from seed, sow directly into loose fast draining soil in fall for winter harvest or early spring for a late spring harvest. Allow 15-18 inches between plants and 2-3 feet between rows. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer at 1/2 strength every two weeks until harvest.
The edible portion of the plant is the flower which is harvested before it actually blooms. Pick cauliflower when the heads are full, but before the sections begin to loosen. The timing depends on the variety, so begin checking plants daily when the heads reach 3-4 inches across. Plants will reach maturity 50-95 days after transplanting.
Tip: Cool season annuals will bolt (go to seed) quickly in warm weather. Check plants often when temperatures begin to rise.
Insects and Diseases:
Some of the insect pests associated with cauliflower are; root maggots, cutworms, aphids, harlequin bugs, flea beetles, cabbage worms, and loopers.
Note: Cauliflower is susceptible to club root, a fungal disease that can be introduced into your garden by infected plants. To avoid this problem start your own plants from seed, rather than purchasing starts from a nursery.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Biennial. Cauliflower will cross-pollinate with all other Brassica oleracea, isolate by one mile the second year when going to seed. Do not harvest heads on plants you intend to save for seed. Carefully dig the plants and pot them in sand. Store plants between 32-40 degrees F. Plant back out in early spring and allow to bolt. Harvest seed pods when dry and clean by hand.