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Setting the record straight on cauliflower; not hard to grow if planted now.

If you've avoided planting cauliflower in your garden because you've heard it's difficult to grow, you've been misinformed. Sometimes called the aristocrat of the cabbage family, cauliflower has gotten a bad rap. One explanation for its negative reputation: gardeners often try to grow cauliflower at the wrong time of year.

In the mild-winter West, fall is prime planting time. Young plants can take advantage of balmy weather in early fall to get established and produce lush green growth.

To develop large, pearly white heads, cauliflower needs cool temperatures-our typical weather pattern by the time

heads start forming in late fall. From seedling to harvest, growth for early- to late-season varieties takes 43 to 85 days.

You can try growing cauliflower in spring, too, but success is much less predictable. If temperatures are mild, you may get decent heads. But in cool spring weather, plants often develop too slowly at first, then get hit with warm weather right when heads start forming; plants bolt (go to seed) or develop only small, button-size heads.

Seven types to try

To grow cauliflower successfully, it helps to choose the right variety. In Sunset's

test garden,'Snow Crown', an All-America winner, was our winner, too. Heads were large (up to 8 inches), firm, and very mild tasting.

'Snow Queen' developed earliest, maturing about six weeks after planting, but it bolted in our spring planting. 'Early Snowball 9 and 'Early White Hybrid' also produced large, firm, mild heads.

Along with the white types, we grew purple cauliflower which looks like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. The head is green tinged with deep purple (all purple cauliflower varieties turn green when cooked).

Most gardeners say the purple types are easier to grow than white ones. Although we got good crops of Purple Head', Sicilian Purple', and Violet Queen' in fall, all

of the purple varieties bolted in our spring planting.

Provide rich soil, plenty of moisture Start cauliflower seeds four to six weeks before you're ready to plant. Don't use overgrown, rootbound, or stressed transplants-they may be slow to get established or never recover; either way, they'll likely form only button-size heads. Cauliflower grows best in loose, rich soil. Before planting, mix in fertilizer and plenty of organic matter. Choose a spot in full sun and plant 18 inches apart in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Keep the soil evenly moist; if plants are stressed by moisture loss, the heads may develop a stronger taste. If leaves look pale, fertilize again in several weeks.

If root maggots have been a problem in the past, cover transplants with fabric-type floating row covers. Or you can try mixing diazinon granules into the soil before planting, following label directions. Later in the growing season, control cabbage loopers with Bacillus thuringiensis.

Some types of cauliflower are self-blanching, and catalogs label them as such. On these kinds, leaves naturally curve over heads to shade them as they develop (see photograph at left above).

On types that are not self-blanching, you can bind leaves loosely with clothespins, rubber bands, or string when you first notice small, white, button-size heads emerging (tie before the heads are 3 inches across). Although tying isn't necessary and doesn't affect taste, it helps keep sunlight from yellowing the curds. Some avid cauliflower growers say that you'll get much bigger heads this way, too.

Once heads start forming, keep your eye on them. Harvest cauliflower before curds start to loosen-usually 1 1/2 to 2 weeks after button-size heads appear.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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