How to grow cauliflower – an easy beginner’s guide
- By: Ashley Saunders
- June 2020
Believed to originate from the Mediterranean, Cauliflower is part of the Brassica family and an offshoot of a type of wild cabbage that’s also the ancestor of kale, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. In this article, you’ll learn how to grow cauliflower, even if it’s a challenge too!
Typically, we think of cauliflower as white. However, some varieties are purple, yellow, and orange. In our opinion, these varieties are far more interesting!
Cauliflower has numerous health benefits as it’s high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and fibre. As it largely water (92%), it will keep you hydrated. Cauliflower contains glucosinolates, which are believed to prevent cancer and have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial effects.
Sadly, you don’t want to attempt to grow cauliflower if you’re just starting your vegetable patch as it’s a challenge crop to grow. It doesn’t tolerate heat or cold, requires a lot of attention and can be quite temperamental!
Interesting cauliflower facts!
Cauliflower was the rage at the court of Louis XIV and served in rich and elegant dishes there.
According to the Guinness World Records, the largest cauliflower was grown by Peter Glazebrook in 2014 and weight 27.48 kg.
Cauliflower-based doughs for making pizza have been 3D printed.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer and naturalist, first described cauliflower in the first century A.D.
Cauliflower has been noticed by mathematicians for its distinct fractal dimension, predicted to be about 2.8.
The flower heads are sometimes called curds.
As a temperamental crop, you’ll want to invest some time in creating the ideal soil conditions to allow you to successfully grow cauliflowers.
Firstly, if you grew vegetable from brassica family last year (sprouts, kale, cabbage, broccoli), then plant your cauliflowers in a different location. Ideally, you should practise 3-year crop rotation where you only brassicas in the same spot 1 out of every 3 years.
A few weeks before planting, you’ll need to prepare the soil as it needs to be firm but not loose. This is a good time to correct the soil’s acidity/alkalinity as cauliflowers need a neutral soil (a pH level of 6.5 to 7) for best results.
With the correct pH, you should increase your soil’s organic matter by mixing in mix aged manure and/or compost. It will take a few weeks for it to rot into the ground, creating the ideal conditions to grow cauliflower.
In terms of Cauliflower varieties, there are many superb options and the RHS recommends the following.
Has orange-yellow flower-heads.
Has deep purple heads.
Autumn use with particularly large white curds.
With large, white heads, this is for summer to late autumn harvest. Club root resistant.
Ideally, you would start with seedlings. And while you can grow cauliflower from seeds, they do require a lot of attention as they require consistent watering during germination and growth.
You should transplant seedlings between March and May into your vegetable patch. That said, you can start earlier (January/February) in a glasshouse or coldframe.
As cauliflower require space to grow, you should leave around 50 cm between plants and space rows around 80 cm apart.
As a temperamental crop, cauliflower doesn’t like to be too hot or cold. So it’s best to shade plants from the heat or cover them with old milk jugs to protect from them from frost. Plants exposed to cold weather might form buttons or grow stunted.
How to nurture cauliflower
There’s an art to nurturing cauliflower so that they produce the best crop. Like most vegetables, they need regular watering and feeding but unlike others, they require them much more.
Without a plentiful supply of water and nutrients, cauliflowers will simply stop growing. Sadly, once they’ve stopped, there’s no way to restart the growth.
At the start, you’ll need to water whenever the soil begins to dry out and scatter some Growmore around them once a week. As the cauliflower heads start to form, stop feeding with a nitrogen-rich fertilised and swap to a potash feed.
It’s worth adding mulch around the plants as this improves water retention and provide some nutrients. However, you should ensure that the mulch does not touch the plants.
Depending on the variety, your cauliflower should be ready to harvest in about 50 to 100 days. Look for heads that are compact, white, and firm. The ideal size is around 15 to 20cm in diameter.
Using a large knife, cut the heads off the plant ensuring that you kept some leaves around the head for protection.
If the heads are too small but have already started to open up, you should harvest straight away as they won’t improve. Should your cauliflower have a coarse appearance, it has past maturity and should be tossed.
How to store fresh cauliflower
Depending on when you intend to use your Cauliflower, you can store them either in the fridge or freezer.
If you’ll use them within a week, you can place heads in a sealed plastic bag and store in the fridge.
For more long-term storage, you can freeze or pickle heads. Start by cutting it into 3 cm pieces. Next, blanch for 3 minutes in lightly salted water. Leave on the side to cool for a few minutes and drain. Finally, seal and freeze.
Common pests and problems
Part of attempting to grow cauliflower or any vegetable for that matter is having to deal with pests and diseases. Thankfully cauliflower isn’t afflicted by that many issues.
Birds, especially pigeons, see cauliflower as a nice snack. They’ll happily eat seedling, leaves and even munch on the heads. To protect plants from birds, simply cover them with netting. You could try scarecrows or bird-scaring mechanisms, however, they only seem to work for a short time.
Several types of caterpillars will happily feed on brassicas, with the most common being cabbage white butterflies. Typically caterpillars are easy to spot, even if that’s just holes in the leaves.
If you can spot them, you can try picking the caterpillars off. If you can’t or have had issues with them in the past, then use insect-proof mesh or fine netting to prevent egg-laying.
This appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface. The result is leaves become stunted and shrivel. You will need to keep the soil moist and ensure you’re growing in a fairly cool location.
This is a common problem with brassicas (including sprouts, cabbage, and turnips) and easy to spot. Roots become swollen and distorted, and leaves become pale and yellow and wilt easily. In some case, plants may die.
To stop club root, you’ll need to improve your soil’s drainage and add some lime to make the soil more alkaline. If last year’s crop was infected by club root, use a different patch in your garden as growing in affected soil will only cause further issues.
That’s how to grow cauliflower!
It might take a few attempts to be successful but they’ll taste far better than any you can buy at the supermarket. That’s how you can grow cauliflower at home!