(Genus: Brassica oleracea botrytis - Family: Brassicaceae)
Cauliflower and its origins
A member of the Brassicaceae family, the cauliflower is a half hardy, herbaceous annual that can be grown all year round if you choose the correct species for your conditions. Its name originates from the Latin words for ‘the stalk’ and ‘the flower’, essentially a flower that grows from the stalk.
The white section of the plant that is most commonly eaten is, in fact, immature flower heads. The plant is characterised by a short thick stem and thick lush green leaves. Other members of the family include Cabbage, Broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
How to Plant: Cauliflower
Most cauliflower species prefer a colder climate; however, if it is too hot or too cold the plant will struggle to grow. They are often considered a tricky plant to grow because they require lots of care and attention.
For best results, the soil should be prepared some months in advance. It should be rich in humus and deep, adding lots of well-rotted organic matter in the months leading up to planting. Ideally, it should be a well-draining, medium-texture soil, as the plant does not tolerate water-logged soil. Plant cauliflower in an area that is partially shaded but ensure that it does receive sunlight during the day.
Fertilise the soil before planting. Irrigation is essential for Cauliflower, especially in the early stages of the crop cycle. Water regularly, right up to the first signs of flowering and then keep the soil moist, ensuring that it does not get too dry.
Plant seeds in seedbeds or directly outdoors, the optimum time being March to July. Seeds can be planted outdoors as soon as the threat of frost has passed, even if the soil temperature is still cool. Cauliflowers develop large heads and therefore, require plenty of space to grow. Seedlings should reach at least 20cm before planting outdoors. Plant cauliflower in rows, leaving at least a 50-60cm gap between each seed hole and also, a similar gap between the rows.
When to harvest Cauliflower
Cauliflower is an annual. There are 4 main groups of cauliflower which can be both summer and winter flowering, therefore, by using different species, you can grow and harvest cauliflowers throughout the year. The most commonly grown species feature white heads, however there are a number of variants with purple and green heads.
Winter Cauliflower is ready to harvest from early autumn and can be harvested right through to the following spring. Harvesting will begin once the heads have become firm and tight, as soon as they start to loosen, it is too late to harvest.
Once harvested, cauliflower can quickly wilt. Store in a paper bag in the fridge for a number of days but for longer term storage, divide into smaller pieces and freeze. Frozen cauliflower can be stored for up to a year.
Did you know
Rich in vitamins, cauliflower is a great source of vitamins A, B and C. This nutritious vegetable also includes amino acids and minerals. Low in fat and also in carbohydrates, cauliflower can often be used as an alternative to potato, offering an ideal substitute for mashed potato thanks to its texture and density. This is ideal for someone on a low-carb diet as cauliflower doesn’t contain large quantities of starch, as opposed to the potato.
It features in many recipes and can be boiled, broiled or is very tasty when pan fried. Cauliflower is often cooked in a cheese sauce as an accompaniment to a meal but can also be pickled, used as a pasta sauce or is a key ingredient in curries.