If you're looking for another fall vegetable to plant in your garden, consider growing cauliflower (Brassica oleracea / Cruciferae). Because this cruciferous vegetable is the most tempermental member of the Brassica clan, growing it is harder than growing cabbage plants and Brussels sprouts, but with the right planning and pampering, it's definitely do-able.
Once seedlings begin to mature, growing cauliflower heads (called curds) sit on top of sturdy, low-growing stalks and look a lot like broccoli, with a tasty, central head that sits nestled in a bed of thick, cupped leaves that help shield the tender middle from harsh conditions and dirt. And, while most people think of cauliflower as only coming in the common creamy white cultivar, green and purple cauliflower also exist (and are just as tasty).
Tips for Growing Cauliflower
If you're serious about growing cauliflower, you'll need to keep a watchful eye on temperature, watering and soil quality for this finicky grower. If any one of these variables falls outside of cauliflower's preferred growing conditions, your plants may never develop edible heads.
- Only plant in well-drained, fertile soil that's high in organic matter and has a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Use nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
- Plant in full sun but avoid temperature extremes. To successfully grow cauliflower, plants need at least two months of temperatures between 55° and 80° F.
- To keep soil cool and moist, water well and mulch.
- Warm temperatures make curds less presentable and "ricey" so consider growing cauliflower as a fall crop only.
- If seedlings or transplants are leggy, provide extra support by collaring soil around the base of the stalk up to the lowest leaves.
- To keep the heads of white cultivars clean and cream-colored, tie or fasten inner leaves over the curd. Check occasionally for pests and yellowing and, in warmer climates, regularly sprinkle heads with water to keep cool and prevent browning.
- Protect from garden pests like cabbage worms, root maggots and cabbage loopers by covering plants or collaring stalks with gardening fabric.
- Consider using cloches and bell jars to protect early plantings seedlings from frost.
Why Grow Cauliflower?
The Nutritional Value of Cauliflower
While growing cauliflower isn't as easy as growing other cruciferous vegetables, the nutritional value of cauliflower may still make it worth the time and effort. Low in calories, high in vitamin C, and peppered with beneficial nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, vegetable proteins, B vitamins and folate, the health benefits of cauliflower are well known and acknowledged. Plus, it's a breeze to make: just steam, salt and pepper cauliflower heads right from the garden and you're in for a delicious, creamy treat. (Or, for something a little different, try mashed cauliflower. It's delicious!)
For growing specifications for growing cauliflower (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and germination rates), check out the Gardening Guides page.
(Images graciously provided by vierdrie, vale and queryamit. Thanks!)