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Cauliflower

UK Garden Centre - Information about Cauliflower

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‘Cauliflower,’ 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.

Seed facts
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) 40-50 weeks.
Ease of cultivation: Tricky – needs good soil, careful transplanting, regular watering…and protection against its enemies.

Soil facts
· 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.

Calendar
· 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 sun.
· Protect the winter crop from frost and snow by breaking a few leaves over the curd.

Harvesting
· 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 to separate.
· 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 them fresh.

Varieties
Summer varieties
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 cauliflower.
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.

Autumn varieties
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 and Canberra.
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 are others.
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 broad leaves.
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 varieties
‘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 west.
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 curd.

Troubles
See Brassicas.


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