wrote Mark Twain, ‘is nothing but cabbage
with a college education’. He was, of course,
referring to its more refined flavour, but for
the gardener there is an equally important difference
– cauliflower is more difficult to grow.
It needs rich and deep soil, and during the growing
season there must not be any check to growth.
Failure to provide these requirements will often
result in the production of tiny ‘button’
heads and a lot of wasted effort. So proper soil
preparation, careful planting and regular watering
are essential, and so is the choice of suitable
varieties. Types are available which will produce
heads at almost any time of the year, but avoid
the Roscoff varieties which are harvested between
December and April – they are only reliable
in Devon and Cornwall. Grow mammoths such as Autumn
Giant to impress the neighbours or at the other
end of the scale plant the summer variety predominant
6in (15cm) apart to produce mini-cauliflowers
for the freezer.
Expected germination time: 7-12 days
Approximate number per ounce: 8000
Expected yield per plant: 1-2lb (0.5-1kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 4 years.
Approximate time between sowing and cutting: (Summer
and autumn varieties) 18-24 weeks; (Winter varieties)
Ease of cultivation: Tricky – needs good
soil, careful transplanting, regular watering…and
protection against its enemies.
· Cauliflower needs well-consolidated soil,
so the basic requirement is to leave several months
between digging and planting.
· Pick a reasonably sunny site for the
place where the plants will grow to maturity.
Avoid a frost pocket for winter varieties. Dig
in autumn – work in plenty of well-rotted
manure or compost. Lime, if necessary, in winter.
· In spring apply Growmore fertilizer –
rake in Bromophos if cabbage root fly is known
to be a problem. Do not fork over the surface
before planting the seedlings – tread down
gently, rake lightly and remove surface rubbish.
Sowing and Planting
Sow very thinly ½ in (1cm) deep in rows
that are 6in (15in) apart. Cover with soil.
· Thin the seedlings to prevent them from
becoming weak and spindly. They should be about
3in (7cm) apart in the rows.
· The seedlings are ready for transplanting
when they have 5 or 6 leaves. Water the rows the
day before moving and lift the seedlings carefully
with as much soil as possible around the roots.
Dip roots in Calomel Dust paste if club root is
feared. Plant firmly, setting the seedlings at
the same level as in the seedbed. Leave 2ft (60cm)
between summer and autumn varieties, 2 ½
ft (75cm) between winter varieties.
· Summer varieties: In late March or early
April transplant seedlings which have been raised
under glass from a January sowing to provide a
June-July crop. Or sow outdoors in early April
and transplant in June for cropping in August-September.
Cutting time lasts from June to mid September.
· Autumn varieties: Sow outdoors between
mid April and mid May and transplant in late June.
Cutting time is mid September to early December.
· Winter varieties: Sow outdoors in May
and transplant late in July. Cutting time is late
February to the end of May.
Looking after the crop
· Hoe regularly and provide some means
of protection for the young plants against birds.
· Cauliflowers must never be kept short
of water, especially in the early stages, or very
small heads will quickly form. Feed occasionally
as this crop is a hungry one.
· With summer varieties bend a few leaves
over the developing curd to protect it from the
· Protect the winter crop from frost and
snow by breaking a few leaves over the curd.
· Begin cutting some of the cauliflowers
while they are still fairly small rather than
waiting for them all to mature and produce a glut.
You have waited too long once the florets start
· Cut in the morning when the heads still
have dew on them, but in frosty weather wait until
midday. If you wish to keep the heads for up to
3 weeks before use, lift the plants, shake the
earth off the roots and hang upside down in a
cool shed. Mist the curds occasionally to keep
These cauliflowers mature during the summer months
from seed sown in a cold frame in September, in
a greenhouse or on the windowsill in January or
outdoors in April. They are compact plants –
you can choose an early variety, such as Snowball,
which will produce heads in June or July, or you
can grow a later-maturing type like All the Year
Round which will be ready for cutting in August
from an outdoor sowing.
All The Year Round: An old favourite. The curds
are large and you can crop all summer and early
autumn by sowing early under glass and then outdoors
in April or May.
Snowball: The usual choice if you want an early
variety. The tight heads are not large –
for well-rounded 2lb (1kg) cauliflowers of the
Snowball type choose the F1 hybrid Snow Crown.
Dok-Elgon: All the Year Round has had its day,
according to many experts. This is one to grow
for kitchen or exhibition if you want a late summer
Mechelse: An early variety which is often recommended
nowadays as an alternative to Snowball. It is
less temperamental and produces larger heads.
Both Delta and Classic are good strains.
Dominant: A mid-season variety which matures in
July. Good for freezing – its heads are
large and its constitution is robust.
Alpha: An early one with a high reputation for
resisting premature heading when things go wrong.
There are several strains – you may find
it listed as Climax, Polaris or Paloma.
These cauliflowers mature during the autumn months
and are of two quite different types. There are
the large and vigorous varieties such as Autumn
Giant and Flora Blanca, and there are the more
compact Australian varieties such as Barrier Reef
Autumn Giant: Once Autumn Giant and its various
strains dominated this group – now the newer
types are taking over. Still worth choosing if
you want large heads in early winter – Veitch’s
Self Protecting is the usual selection but there
Flora Blanca: Another name for the old favourite
Autumn Glory. Grow this one for the autumn show
– giant, pure white heads are ready for
cutting in September and October.
Canberra: A popular Australian variety which matures
in November. The curds are well protected by the
Barrier Reef: Another Australian variety with
the usual characteristics – compact growth
and good curd cover by the leaves. It is ready
for cutting from late October onwards.
‘Winter cauliflower’ is the technically
incorrect name for the group of varieties listed
below. The standard types mature in spring, not
winter, and they are listed broccoli. Although
less delicately-flavoured than true cauliflowers
the popular varieties of winter cauliflower are
easier to grow.
English Winter: This was once the basic hardy
variety, producing large heads between March and
June. The numerous strains include St George (April),
Late Queen (May) and Late June (June).
Walcheren Winter: This Dutch variety is taking
over from the English Winter. It is equally hardy
and the heads are of higher quality. There are
several strains – Armado April (April),
Markanta (May) and Birchington (May) are examples.
St Agnes: A typical Roscoff variety, maturing
as early as December. Sounds attractive –
cauliflower for Christmas Dinner, but all Roscoffs
are frost-sensitive. Suitable only for the south
Angers No. 2: Typical of the Feltham strain. There
are various numbers and all of them will suffer
in frosty weather. Don’t take a chance –
choose Walcheren Winter instead.
Purple Cape: Something different – a hardy
winter cauliflower which produces purple heads
in March. Cook the young leaves as well as the