Cauliflowers are a wonderful crop to grow in the garden, contrary to popular belief they are actually quite easy to grow if cared for correctly. If you are worried about growing cauliflowers for the first time or have had problems in the past you can make a few changes that will help grow large cauliflower heads.
In this article you’ll discover when you sow, plant and how to care for your own cauliflower plants for harvests through summer and into late autumn.
Growing cauliflowers is complicated by the large seed companies selling many different varieties for summer and autumn harvesting. The most popular cauliflower varieties such as Snowball and All The Year Round can be successfully grown for harvesting over this entire season.
How To Sow Cauliflower Seeds
To get a good crop of cauliflowers it’s essential to sow indoors in trays or pots, from my trials I have found that cauliflower plants grown in pots far out preform those sown in a seed bed or straight outdoors. Sowing indoors also gives you the chance to get crops earlier in the season. Use a good quality compost in 3 inch (8cm) plastic pots and plant two seeds per pot, pricking out the weakest plant after germination.
Sowing cauliflowers for early harvests begins in early February with late harvesting varieties planted before the last week in May. To get a good succession of cauliflowers you can sown seeds regularly from February until the end of May.
Usual germination time for cauliflowers is 10-14 days.
Planting Cauliflower Seedlings Outdoors
Cauliflower plants can be transplanted out once they have four or five true leaves, this is usually about 6 weeks after first sowing the seeds indoors. Cauliflower plants are tough and can survive frost and bad weather fairly well, planting a month to six weeks before the last frost date is fine. In a good soil I find a planting distance of 18 inches apart in rows of the same spacing allows for god growth but prevents weeds growing between the rows.
A good fertile soil is important for cauliflowers as they are very heavy feeders. Adding a good amount of well rotted manure to the bed at least a month before planting outdoors is ideal as this adds organic matter, fertility and retains essential moisture. If no rotted manure is available then incorporating a blood, fish and bone fertiliser is a good alternative.
When planting outdoors you can plant the seedling below the current soil level, this will give the plant the extra stability that cauliflowers enjoy, firming the soil around the base of the stem with your heel gives the same effect.
It’s worth mentioning that cauliflowers must be grown as part of a standard crop rotation. You cannot plant cauliflowers in an area that has grown other members of the brassica family (cabbages, broccoli, kale, sprouts) for the last two years.
Once in the ground cauliflowers do not need a lot of care.
Protecting your crop from caterpillars is a good idea, especially for autumn harvests. A protection cage using general purpose butterfly netting can greatly reduce the amount of caterpillars on your crop, I have found that no form of netting will 100% stop butterflies getting into the cage though.
Keeping the plants well watered and feeding regularly with a seaweed feeds makes sure the cauliflowers grow quickly and remain of a very good quality. Using a mulch around the plant feeds the cauliflowers and retains the all important moisture that cauliflowers crave so much.
Planting the plants just 18 inches apart blocks light to the weeds below, if you start with a clean bed you should only need to weed the bed once about a month after transplanting the seedlings outdoors.
It’s easy to tell when cauliflowers are ready. The heads will grow very quickly so checking regularly to see how they are growing will mean you don’t miss the first cauliflowers growing. If you are growing multiple plants begin harvesting when the cauliflower heads are still only 6-8 inches wide. Keep harvesting regularly as the heads quickly turn, later in the season the heads can be allowed to grow larger but do not allow them to discolour as this means they are past their best.
Folding the leaves of the plant over the head of the cauliflower stops the sun discolouring the head and keeps them cool which allows them to be kept on the plant longer without them spoiling.
If grown in succession you should easily be able to harvest cauliflowers from late May until November.