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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic Cauliflower


Cauliflowers are the most well known edible flowers


Brassica oleracea Botrytis group

Family: Cruciferae (Group 2)

Cauliflower is the most well known edible flower. And it makes such a delectable and versatile vegetable. Of course, you can use it as a standard meal accompaniment, and raw in salads, but it's also great with sauces as a meal in its own right or for cauliflower bhaji, for example. I like it just lightly cooked and served up with a knob of butter.

Unfortunately, it's not the easiest of brassicas to grow. In fact, it's generally classified as difficult. So if you're not already a confident vegetable gardener with a couple of years of brassica production under your belt, you might be better to select from the other brassicas for the time being - such as calabrese, which also produces edible flowers.

Site and soil

Choose an open, unshaded site with fertile, well-drained and moisture retentive soil, which should be slightly acid (min pH 5.4, but see note on clubroot - add lime if necessary to adjust pH). Brassicas have a high nitrogen requirement and also need very firm soil. To ensure sufficient nutrient levels, it is best to topdress or apply a liquid feed such as seaweed fertiiser during growth.

Because brassicas are prone to soil infections, for example, Clubroot, it's important to use a minimum 3 year rotation plan.

Ideal pH is 6.5-7.5


Winter heading*:
Angers No. 2
St Hilary
mid May/end July
mid May/end July

Winter (Spring heading):
St George
Summer Show, Late Queen
May-June/late July

Early Summer:
Dominant, Montano, Alpha Paloma, White Summer
Oct under cloche, thin to 2"
OR Jan-early Feb in heat/early-mid Mar
Snowball, Le Cerf, Plana, Dok
March under cover/mid May
Barrier Reef, Canberra, Violet Queen
late April-mid May/mid-late Jun
Dominant, Montano, Alpha Paloma, White Summer
April-early July in situ
13-18 weeks from sowing
*For coastal areas of the South, Southwest and Wales.

Perennial cauliflower (formerly broccoli) 'Nine Star Perennial' should be sown in March to April, transplanting to 1m by 500cm (3'x18"). The bed should be moved to a new site after 3 years' cropping. Heads are produced around February to March each year. All must be cut to keep plants productive in following years.

Sow in a seed bed unless soil is heavy, in which case use seed trays or modules to minimise root disturbance. Sow 2-2.5cm (¾-1") deep, spacing 7.5cm (3") apart in the row. Transplant at about 10cm (4") tall or when the first true leaves develop to follow legumes or onto a site which was manured the previous Autumn.

On light soils, plant into drills 8cm (3") wide by 10cm (4") deep and earth the plants up as they develop until the soil is level, otherwise on the flat. Plant firmly enough that pulling on a leaf results in it tearing. Use brassica collars to prevent root fly.

Transplant at about 6 weeks. This is to prevent a check to growth at a later stage, which may stunt growth.

Water after transplanting and daily in dry weather for 3-4 weeks, about ¼ pint per plant.

Hoe to keep weed free. Mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Catch crops may be sown between rows early on, eg. radishes, lettuces, seedling salad crops.

Water up to 4 gallons per sq yard per week in dry weather. The minimum watering requirement is a single heavy watering 10-20 days before maturity.

The key to success lies in keeping the soil moist, both in the early stages and during the growing season. Checks in growth result in small, premature, deformed heads or no heads at all. The easiest types to grow are the autumn and spring heading types, as there is generally more rainfall in their maturation period.

Pests, diseases and disorders

Winter cauliflower (including spring heading types) may be damaged by severe frost. Preventive methods: either (a) lean plant to North and earth up on South side, or (b) tie leaves over curd (the cauliflower head).

Summer cauliflowers may be protected from scorch by bending a large leaf over the curd.

If cold conditions cause a check in growth, turning the plant bluish-green, apply a liquid fertiliser (such as seaweed feed) or hoe in 1oz/sq yard nitrogenous fertiliser such as Growmore 100% organic. Serious checks in growth may turn the seedlings blind.

On very acid soils, cauliflower may suffer from boron deficiency, indicated by stunted, brittle leaves, brownish patches of discolouration in the curd and inside the stems. Another problem which may occur, this time on highly alkaline soils, is a molybdenum deficiency, which shows up as narrow leaf blades and whiplike leaves. The common name for this problem is whiptail. Both these problems are much more likely on land which has been over-used without adequate organic input. Regular additions of well rotted manure every year will gradually bring the soil back to a decent state. In the meantime, if afflicted by either of these problems, you can try foliar feeding with half-strength liquid seaweed fertiliser every couple of weeks.

Note on clubroot

Soil may remain infected for 20 years; steps to avoid introduction include:

  • good drainage
  • rotation
  • liming acid soils to a pH around 7
  • working in high levels of organic matter
  • ensuring clean plants are used - source must be known to be free of disease (best grown at home in sterile medium)
  • boots and tools used on infected land must be thoroughly cleaned before use on clean land

Once infected avoid growing any brassicas except fast maturing types such as Texsel greens or cut and come again oriental seedlings. If you have no other land available, and you must grow types with a lengthy growing season, you can try sowing seed in modules, and potting up until the plants reach a height of 10cm (4") before planting out. A root drench may also help.

If you're interested in healthy food, you may also be interested in our sister site, The Health Site, Your Online Health Channel.

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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