Cauliflower is such a versatile vegetable; perfect raw for dips or salads, but equally delicious roasted, served as a gratin, or as soup. And it's not just that perfect, snow-white vegetable that so many of us are used to; there are also orange, purple, and bright green cauliflowers available for the home gardener!
Where to Grow Organic Cauliflower
Cauliflower requires rich, well-drained soil. Amend the soil with compost and composted manure before planting. It also requires full sun, at least 6 hours per day.
You can find cauliflower transplants in just about any garden center or nursery. But, if you're interested in growing less-common varieties or heirlooms, you'll most likely have to start them from seeds.
Cauliflower seed should be sown indoors ten to twelve weeks before your last spring frost date. You can harden off and plant cauliflower transplants three to four weeks before your last spring frost -- they can handle cool temperatures and some frost.
For a fall crop, start your seeds indoors three to four months before your first fall frost, and transplant them into the garden when the plants are four to five weeks old.
Plant cauliflower 18 to 36 inches apart, and mulch to help the soil retain moisture. Eventually, the large leaves will shade out any weeds, but while the plants are getting established, they'll appreciate the extra mulch.
How to Grow Organic Cauliflower
Cauliflower needs plenty of moisture; do not let the soil dry out. In addition to being planted in soil amended with plenty of compost, cauliflower also appreciates a bit of fish emulsion or compost tea every six weeks during the growing season.
If you want your cauliflower to be pristinely white (and you're not growing a self-blanching variety), you'll need to blanch it. To blanch cauliflower, simply pull up a few of the leaves around the newly-forming heads of cauliflower, and secure them with a clothespin or binder clip. This keeps the sun off of the cauliflower curds, which results in nice, white heads. You can also remove a lower leaf or two and lay them over the top of the clothespinned leaves to keep out any light that would get in through the openings between the leaves.
Cauliflower Pests and Problems
The two most common problems for cauliflower are cabbage worms and flea beetles.
- To control cabbage worms, consider growing your plants under a floating row cover, to prevent the cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs in the first place. You can also hand-pick the green worms, or dust with Bt if you're dealing with a large infestation. It is really hard to control them once the heads start forming (since the worms can hide in the head) so the floating row cover is probably your best option here.
- For flea beetles, consider growing under row covers or hand picking. Young plants need the most protection; older plants can usually withstand a flea beetle attack.
Another common problem is small heads. This can often be the result of either spacing the plants too closely, or, more commonly, a long, cool spring. If you have a short growing season, and cool springs, it's probably best to grow cauliflower as a fall crop rather than a spring one; you'll get more reliable yields this way.
Recommended Cauliflower Varieties
- 'Early Snowball' is an heirloom variety that forms 6-inch white heads with solid, crisp curds.
- 'Giant of Naples' is an Italian heirloom that forms huge, 3 pound, white heads.
- 'Violetta Italia' produces large, beautiful purple heads that turn bright green when you cook them.
- 'Green Macerata' is an Italian heirloom that produces large, bright green heads on vigorous plants.