Cauliflower is one of several vegetables of the species Brassica oleracea. Other crops in this grouping include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and collard greens. These are annual plants that reproduce from seed. Typically only the head is eaten but the leaves and stems have use in the kitchen as well for soups and stir frying. The cauliflower head is composed of a white, orange, purple or green inflorescence meristem (curds). All Brassica are called “cole” crops and generally grown as a cool season vegetable.

Here at Sunshine Care, A Memory Care Community in Poway, CA, cauliflower and broccoli are our big players in the organic gardens from September through March plantings. We also dabble in kale and cabbage production. When our spring crops such as tomatoes, squash and peppers start to wind down, the gardens transform into a cole crop paradise.

The oldest record of cauliflower dates back to the 6th century B.C. but really took off in the 16th century A.D. when introduced to France from Italy. The origin of the name is from the Latin word caulis (cabbage) and flower.

Cauliflower grows best with cool daytime temperatures of 70-85 degrees F, with plenty of sun and moist soil conditions high in organic matter. Soil preparation is the key, especially since you are looking for that one big head for the kitchen. All of our rows destined for cauliflower are prepared with organic compost, worm castings, composted chicken manure and a balanced all purpose pre-plant fertilizer. You have only one shot for success so the need to start with a rich, organic base is imperative. After about a month from transplanting, subsequent fertilization is done on a weekly basis with liquid or granular fertilizers high in nitrogen. The key to achieving that large head is constant slow, lush growth of the plant. Anything that slows this process down and stunts the growth will result in smaller, misshaped heads. So keep the ground moist, watch out for insect damage and make sure they are well fed.

The residents and children in our Intergenerational Garden Club start the transplants from seed and receive lots of love in our greenhouse. In about six weeks the starter plants are ready to plant in the gardens. We do this on a weekly basis and once a month ladybugs are released to gobble up any aphids that are sucking on the plants for their juices.

The following varieties are proven winners in our setting and generally impossible to find at your local home and garden centers. Try starting these varieties yourself from seed.

Candid Charm- (65 days)  After many trials of different white cauliflower varieties, we have settled on this variety for our main needs. Candid Charm is ideal and outshines all others by consistently producing excellent yields of the highest quality large heads. I have seen an 11 pound head cut from one of our school gardens. It produces extremely well from September through March plantings. The sturdy jackets and inner leaves envelop the heads, making beautiful solid domes of dense, pure white curds. You can’t go wrong with this one in warm and cool climates. Seeds are available from Territorial Seed Co at a cost of $3.95 for a quarter gram (around 75 seeds). It’s a winner!

Cheddar- (65 days) This eye-catching orange cauliflower variety contains 25 times the beta carotene as does white cauliflower. Only carrots have more. The extremely attractive domed heads measure 4”-7” in width on extremely vigorous plants. For the best orange color, keep the heads untied during growth. Cheddar is just as easy to grow as white cauliflower and you’ll love the dense texture and rich flavor. So if increasing your vitamin A intake is for you, here’s a delicious way to do it. The orange color will keep even after cooking. Seeds are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds at a cost of $5.10/25 seeds.

Vitaverde- (71 days) Big, heavy, lime- green heads of this variety mature on large plants in both cool and warm season production. The heads are very firm and mature early on upright plants. It’s a great addition to your raw veggie platter and again, very easy to grow. It can handle the heat and summer production is possible in moderate areas. Here in Poway, we can go into late March with our transplanting of this stunning variety. A packet of 100 seeds will run you $4.10 from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Veronica Romanesco- (80 days). This late maturing variety is extremely alluring with its spiraled, lime-green heads. It has a great nutty flavor. It is another out-of- the-ordinary cauliflower, bound to catch everyone’s attention. This hybrid is a vigorous grower with beautiful lime- green pinnacles of spirals forming spirals, forming spirals, forming spirals of small pointed florets with a sweet mild flavor. It’s a fractal geometry anomaly and perfect raw or cooked and definitely unique in flavor and appearance. A packet of 50 seeds costs $7.95 from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Graffiti- (80 days) This unbelievably brilliant purple-headed variety is a great draw at farm stands and excellent for restaurants as well as your own dinner table. The stunning colorful florets are attractive served raw with dip or as a cooked vegetable, with its intense shade of purple. Graffiti produces a true cauliflower head on a vigorous plant. The color and flavor will blow your mind! A packet of 50 seeds goes for $8.10 from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It is definitely worth the wait.

When it’s time to take the starts to the garden, we plant our cauliflower 18” apart down the row. We use drip irrigation so the transplants are set on both sides, about 3” from the drip tape in a zig-zag fashion. A 50 ft row will utilize about 67 plants.

After planting, Sluggo- Plus is sprinkled around the base of the plant for cutworm, snail and slug protection. After any rains, be prepared to sprinkle some more for snail and slug control.

Cabbage loopers are another potential problem, but a couple applications of BT, bacillus thuringiensis, during the growing season will easily control these caterpillars when holes in the leaves are noticed.

The biggest potential pest to cauliflower is that of aphids. They generally hide under the head but will also set up camp on the leaves and stems, so scouting is necessary. Strong blasts of water will knock them off the plant and insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils do a fine job for control. You just need to be diligent and check your plants when heads start to form. They will eventually find your plants. Guaranteed!

All these chemicals are organically approved and readily available at all home and garden centers.

When it is time to harvest the heads, cool them down immediately or better yet, eat them that day for maximum flavor.

So don’t just grow white cauliflower, try the other colors for your dining pleasure. Remember that you eat with your eyes first!

Take advantage of our beautiful growing weather in fall and winter in San Diego County and plant members of the Brassica Family, especially cauliflower. The flavor is enhanced due to the cool weather and superior to anything that you can find in the store.

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