What Is Cauliflower?
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) is part of the cabbage family, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi. Cauliflower has a large stem (its name actually comes from the Latin word caulis, meaning “stem” or “stalk”) from which a mass of flower buds called the curd, or head, protrudes. The thick stems are packed with nutrients—especially vitamins C and K—to support the growth of flowers which never actually bloom.
How to Plant Cauliflower
Cauliflower is temperature-sensitive, and many opt to start seeds indoors before planting outside as transplants or seedlings. However you decide to plant, the guidelines below can help:
- Prepare your soil. Cauliflower needs a rich soil filled with nitrogen (as do most cabbage plants) in order to grow. Treat your planting site with aged manure or compost to supply the necessary organic matter and fill your soil with nutrients. Cauliflower prefers a garden soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Plant your seeds. If you’re planting cauliflower seeds directly into your garden, sow seeds half an inch deep, in rows that are three to six inches apart, about a month before the last frost date.
- Transplant your seedlings. If you’re transplanting cauliflower seedlings or small plants, place them in your garden about two to four weeks before the last frost date, with your plants 18 to 24 inches apart (and about two and a half feet between rows). The closer you plant your crops, the smaller the heads will be.
7 Cauliflower Care Tips
Cauliflower needs consistent temperatures to grow, making it a tricky vegetable for beginner gardeners. However, with the right amount of attention and care, it can be done successfully:
- Add mulch. Mulching can keep your soil moist and cool, which is important for the proper development of your cauliflower seeds and plants. Any severe fluctuation in conditions can be detrimental to your cole crops.
- Give full sun. Cauliflower may be temperature sensitive, but it still needs at least six full hours of sun each day. Keep partial shade coverings handy to prevent overheating, but make sure your cauliflower crop gets enough direct sunlight to flourish.
- Blanch. When the cauliflower crowns reach about two inches wide, they should be shielded from the sun to preserve the cauliflower’s whiteness. Some varieties of cauliflower are self-blanching, and their leaves will curl over their blossoming, white heads. For other types, some gardeners may need to help the process along by securing the leaves over the cauliflower crown with twine or a clothespin. Without blanching, a white cauliflower will yellow, and have a stronger but more bitter flavor.
- Supplement. Cauliflower crowns that turn brown are lacking in boron. Create a mixture of one tablespoon of borax to a gallon of water—or obtain liquid seaweed extract—and treat (only the cauliflower plant) every two weeks until your plant looks healthy again.
- Keep it cool. If cauliflower is exposed to extreme temperatures on either side, the crowns may experience buttoning, which means they split off into smaller, separate cauliflower florets, rather than forming one large crown. Use row covers or cut plastic jugs to protect your cauliflower from frost, or provide periodic shade to keep them from heat.
- Companion plant. Like other members of the cabbage family, cauliflower is susceptible to cabbage worms, aphids, flea beetles, slugs, and clubroot. Beans, celery, and onions have been known to make good companions for cauliflower crops, as well as chamomile, rosemary, and oregano.
- Check for pests. Stink bugs, thrips, powdery mildew, cabbage maggots, and cabbage loopers all pose a threat to your cauliflower crop. Use companion planting or treat with organic methods (or insecticide) to rid your cauliflower of these pests, as well as keeping up with regular weeding to eliminate places they can hide.
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