Growing cauliflower can be difficult for many gardeners, as this plant is very picky about temperature and moisture. It prefers cool weather, and is best grown in the spring and fall. Cauliflower need firm, rich, well-drained soil and prefer full sun.
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While seeds may be germinated in an outdoor seed bed and moved to their permanent bed later, it is much easier to sow cauliflower seeds indoors. And be sure to pay attention to the below germination soil temperatures for these picky plants.
If you take the outside route, plant seeds one half inch deep and six inches apart. Cover with soil, then lightly firm soil with a garden rake. Keep the soil moist while the seeds are germinating. Proper soil pH – between 6.5 and 7 - is also essential to prevent disease.
Regardless of whether you start them inside or out, preparing the soil beforehand is extremely important. A fairly heavy soil that’s well augmented with organic compost is key to those big, creamy heads.
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Once your cauliflower seedlings are four to five weeks old, they may be placed in their permanent bed, which should receive full sun. Space the seedlings fifteen to eighteen inches apart with about twenty-four to thirty-six inches between the rows.
To ensure the formation of good heads, water the plants well early in their growth season. Fertilize the leaves every two weeks until harvest with an organic foliar fertilizer (liquid fertilizer), as more nutrients are absorbed by the plant using this method.
For white cauliflower varieties, consider blanching (blocking out the sun) when the head is between two and three inches (5 to 7.5 cm) wide in order to maintain the optimal texture, taste and white color. To do so, fold enough of the plant’s leaves over the head so the head is completely shielded from the sun and tie them together with garden twine or a rubber band.
Your cauliflower will be ready for harvest between four days (warm weather) and ten days (cooler weather) after tying the leaves for blanching, so keep a daily lookout to make sure you don’t leave them too long.
Cauliflower should be picked when the heads are full and tight. If the florets which form the head have started to separate, the head is past prime harvest time.
You may use a clean, sharp knife to cut the heads from the plants.
A full head of cauliflower is best stored in a perforated plastic bag situated in the crisper section of a refrigerator. They will last two to three weeks under these conditions. Cauliflower may be broken into florets and placed in a sealed plastic bag, then refrigerated. The florets will stay fresh for about a week.
For freezing and storing cauliflower for up to six months, cut it into small pieces, then make brine with one gallon of water and four teaspoons of salt and immerse it into this mixture for about thirty minutes to remove any insects. Drain, and then blanch cauliflower in more salted water plus two to three tablespoons of lemon juice to help prevent darkening. Cool, drain, package and freeze.
Cauliflower seeds will last for about four years.
The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Cauliflower. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.
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