Friday, May 21, 2010

Growing Cauliflower

It has been a funny spring so far this year. Usually it seems to be pretty much dry once May hits but this year there has been a lot of rain late spring. It also is a lot cooler then I have experienced since living in Oregon. We even had another freeze after our official last freeze date and the nights still have been so cool I haven't even planted my Tomatoes out yet. I was hoping to get them in the ground this weekend, but the weather forecast is not convincing me. I hope I get enough Tomatoes this year if I get them in the ground so late.

Anything bad for my warm weather crops though is a good thing for my cool season crops.

My lettuce is growing beautifully and my Endive is even holding out. The flowers you see here belong to my Corn Salad (Feld Salat) which I let seed out and collect seeds from. The same reason you see lettuce pop up all over my garden area, tucked into corners. I let it seed out and then replant the seedlings or just let them grow. It gives me a long supply of lettuce, early in the year because a lot of it sprouts early February in my garden.
Most years by mid May my Endive has bolted, not this year.
Endive is always a welcome early Salad crop for me. This I also let just seed out and collect seeds from.

  Everything looks lush and green. My peas after emerging a bit slow at first the last week or two have made a lot of growth. And my garlic is starting to get growing tall early.

My Radishes are doing well and all my Cole crops are growing beautifully.

I even managed to harvest some 'Rapini A Foglia D'olive', which is hard to grow as a spring crop here, I have been eating a lot of Greens harvested from my garden under other 'Red Russian Kale', Broccoli Rabe 'Quarantina', Arugula 'Ortolani' and some Spinach 'Lorelay'.

I think this year I might even succeed in growing my Cauliflower, I have been reading up over the winter on how to grow this Brassica and getting a better Cauliflower harvest, since mine never seemes to make a head in Oregon.

Here is what I learned about 'How to grow Cauliflower':

Cauliflower a cool season crop, closely related to broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips and
mustard can be abundantly produced in the Northwest from from April until early December.
It is more specific in its climatic requirements than most other crops in the Brassica family.
It grows best in a cooler temperature with a good supply of water. One thing I learned new, that there are actually different Cauliflowers bred for different seasons 'Early Season (before it gets too hot), Autumn, Winter and Overwintering' kinds to head up in Spring. If you grow the wrong one at the wrong season it might not head up properly, probably one of the reasons I have not been successful with mine.

Since they have a weak root system and are heavy feeders they need a deep, humusy, rich soil so if your soil is heavy it should be well amended with organic matter. A high soil pH of 6.5 +  is also important for best development. With Cauliflower you only get high quality heads if it grows rapid continously, so you need to give it the soil conditions it needs and fertilize frequently.

Having chickens helps for growing Cauliflower, since they love the nutrients the chicken manure provides, especially the Nitrogen. Rabbit manure is also a good one to use. Cow manure can be used but it is a bit strong and can be easy overdone which could cause salt built up. I prefer not to use it.
Whatever manure you use it should be aged before adding to the garden, fresh manure can burn your plants.
It was suggested to add these organic matter such as compost, bark, and manure a few weeks before you plant out at the site you plan to grow them.

Cauliflower for planting out in Spring are best started indoors, since these Brassicas do not like uneven temperatures. You can start them indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost, I start mine toward end of February with a last frost date of April 15-24 and plan to plant them out around April 9th to latest April 24th depending on the weather. Cauliflower will tolerate some light frost but since it's ideal growing soil temperatures are around 60-75° F, if the weather is still somewhat unpredictable or fluctuates a lot, it is better to wait even it means you might have to re-pot them again.
If you start your seedlings in flats you should move the seedlings to 2" containers as soon they can be handled.
For overwintering Cauliflower if you grow transplants, setting them out to the garden is best done by the end of the first week in September.

Direct seeding is possible, especially for the fall crop. Late summer and Autumn cauliflower can be planted by seeding directly in the field from mid April  to mid May, Overwintering varieties between early July to early August and thinned to the desired in-row spacing when the plants have 3 to 4 true leaves.
Use a soluble fertilizer, as water and fertilizer are required frequently for them to grow well. Outdoor seeded Cauliflower requires about 8 to 10 weeks from seed to plants for the spring crop and about 4 to 5 weeks for the fall crop.

If you are growing your own transplants for spring plantings, give them sufficient cold to harden off, but be ready to protect them from temperatures below freezing. Cauliflower is extremely sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

They do not like to be crowded, so don't plant them too close to each other, mine are about 14" apart, but I read anywhere from 15 to 24 inches apart in various literature.

 If your ph is below 6.5,  it is a good idea to add a little lime at planting. Since they are heavy feeders, and since they need to grow rapidly, even if you amended their soil with lot's of organic matter you need a good amount of 5-10-10 fertilizer, about a 1/2 cup, worked into the soil when you plant.
At the same time it is recommended to add a teaspoon of Bone-meal for each plant into the planting hole for strong roots and stems, this gives it extra phosphorous which Cauliflower needs, especially in our rainy NW climate which leaches this nutrient. This vegetable needs boron and magnesium, or you could get hollow stems with internal brown discoloration, for the home gardener it is easiest to just add 2 level Tablespoons of Borax to 5quart of fertilizer (for a 100 feet row) and fertilize with that. Dolomite Lime will sweeten the soil and give you magnesium. I usually use the Fertilizer mix from Steve Solomon's Book which already has the Dolomite Lime in it, but I did give my Cauliflower the extra Bone meal boost.
The transplants should be watered right after planting to prevent wilting. Severe shock to plants at transplanting time often causes poor head development. It is helpful to water with a starter solution.

Recipe for Starter solution:  Add one cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer to 12 quarts of water. Stir and  let set for a few hours or more. Use one cup of this solution around the roots when you set out plants.

Care during growth:

Side dress in about three to four weeks after transplanting, when the plants have become
established by working about a quart of fresh chicken manure into the soil around each plant or with one teaspoon of bloodmeal sprinkled around the base of each plant this should induce maximum growth. Do this  every three or four weeks until the point of production. Then feed them with a good water-soluble fertilizer until harvest time. Always keep the soil moist.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kitchen-garden planning?

I have been so busy the last few week working in the garden, getting my beds ready for this season, organizing what goes where and what to plant I hardly have had time to share with you what I been up to in my endeavor of growing my Kitchen garden.

I am trying to be more organized this year. I know, it will be quite a task.

I want to do more of an organized crop rotation rather then this
haphazardly rotation I normally am doing. Most years I just watch out where I planted my Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Cabbages, Broccoli and Cauliflower, Squash, Melons and Cucumbers, those I always rotate to a new bed each year, where none of their sisters have been growing. The rest of the smaller vegetables I normally just tuck somewhere, wherever I have a place for it. I have been known to loose a few vegetables because I could not remember where I tucked them in and my label got lost. And all of a sudden I see something shooting up, bolting and go to flower.
'Oh, there it is!' unfortunately it is to late to eat it now.

I have been using my garden software 'IG pro Garden' to get organized. I got all my numbered, raised garden-beds entered in there, all my vegetables, grouped by their Vegetable name and each one designated a rotating group.

group A - Cucumber/Squash Family
group B - Legumes
group C - Solanum (Peppers, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Potatoes...)
group D - Roots and Onion
group E - Brassica (Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli...)
group F - Greens and Lettuce

since some vegetables like to grow together, but they are not necessarily in the same family and some even they are in the same family don't like to live with each other, and some can be almost grown with any other vegetable I also added these to different groups.
One example is Radish. Radish really goes along with almost anything and as long the soil drains well, is light and it has water it grows almost anywhere. So I added it to Group A, Group D, and Group F. Lettuce, Arugula, Beets, Carrots, Endive, Chicory, Corn Salad, Onion family are in Group D and F, Kale is also in this group but also in E. Basil, Parsley in Group C and F.
There are others I added to multiple groups which I am not mentioning now.
It makes the rotation a bit more complicated but since I grow such a large variety of vegetables it helps me to spread the crops a bit more around. I came up with this rotation after working through the book 'The Kitchen Garden Grower's Guide The Kitchen Garden Grower's Guide: A practical vegetable and herb garden encyclopedia'. This book is really nice to use if you just need the facts for each vegetables. I used the book to add the most important growing info into my garden software for each vegetable. The book showed which vegetables grow well together and what combination to avoid and the rotation for each plant.
To plan the placements of the vegetables I made a document with my numbered beds, each bed has a square foot garden grid to help visualize the area I have available. I wrote all the names of the vegetables in the proper space on that paper and then made several copies.

The IG Pro garden software lets me input tasks with a date attached. So I can make a task for example called  'indoor seeding' for a specific vegetable, add the varieties to the task and set up a date and when I open my program I open the task program of IG Pro and then I can look either at the task by culture type 'indoor seeding', 'outdoor seeding', 'transplant', 'fertilize' or by date, that needs to be done this month. So far I mainly input the seeding and planting/transplanting tasks for most of my vegetable crops but already it's making a big difference especially in my sucession sowing. I can print out a list with all the vegetables which need care for that month, listing every seeding date I planned or I can select a specific vegetable and then print out an report giving me a choice of all it's succession seeding dates or only the one I choose and also some growing notes for that specific plant.
Now I can print out a seeding and planting report from the  task program of the IG Pro Garden program take it and a copy of the garden bed document with me out to the garden and I know exactly where to plant my seed.
Next year I can see exactly where I had my plants. It will make my rotations much more easy to organize.
Already it is helping me quite a bit with my succession sowing and so far I have been keeping up with starting my plants at the proper dates.
Once I have all  my data input into the program I will be so organized.
If I only now could have a program to keep track of my tools I frequently loose in my large garden.........