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.


Queenbuv3 said...

This advice is very timely. I just planted my cauliflower today : )

DieGartenFrau said...

Thanks Queenbuv3. I hope your cauliflower will grow nicely. Don't give up on it, I've yet have harvested any. Sometimes you just have to find the best window/season for growing it in your area. I am planning to start some more, direct seeded this week, and then again summer. One of those crops should work out, I hope.

Kimberly said...

I haven't been successful growing veggies in S Fl...I'm going to give it another go this fall! Great post!

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