Brassica oleracea, the cool season crop cousin of the cabbage is completely captivating, and is commonly called cauliflower. Say that five times fast! That may get complicated, but the cauliflower would understand that. That’s because this member of the Brassicaceae family (mustard family) along with kale, cabbage, broccoli, and broccoli rabe, is known for being a temperamental grower.
Complexities of Cultivating Cauliflower
If you decide to plant cauliflower, and I think you should give it a go (at least once), know that for better success plant seedlings and not seeds. Once you acquire your seedlings find a spot in your garden that receives full sun for 6+ hours. Ensure that the soil is at a pH around 6.6 and rich in organic matter prior to planting, composting if necessary. Plant your seedlings 2-3’ apart.
The reason cauliflower can be difficult to grow is that it’s sensitive to temperature and moisture. Significant changes in either can cause the plants to “button”. Buttoning is when the cauliflower forms small button-sized heads instead of the large round head which is the curd that is harvested and eaten. When planting cauliflower in the spring you have about a 2 week window. This window falls between 2-4 weeks after the last expected frost. You don’t want to miss this window, because if planted to early, frost and cold of temperatures will kill the cauliflower plants. If you plant too late, the cauliflower is susceptible to buttoning due to the hot temperatures of summer. If you choose to plant in the fall, do so 6-8 weeks prior to the first frost, and with temperatures below 75°F. Covering to protect from frost and shading to protect from the sun can help produce a more successful crop.
Once your plants are established, consistently water them, as interrupted soil moisture can increase the likelihood of buttoning. Irrigate plants with 1-2” of water per week, and try to do so in the evening to reduce the chances of developing rot. As your plants grow, and the heads reach 2-3” in diameter, tie the outer leaves together to cover the curd to blanch it and protect it from the sun. There are some self-blanching varieties that won’t need to be tied. Plants usually mature around 70 days, although there are some varieties that mature in 30-60 days.
Cauliflower is also vulnerable to disease and pests. All of the Brassicaceae family is susceptible to black rot. Often the rot comes from infected seedlings or from planting one member of the Brassicaceae family in the same location after another. To help prevent rot, only purchase seedlings from reputable and certified sellers. Practicing proper garden rotation will also help reduce your chances of spreading rot, as well as help minimize damaging insects. Harlequin bugs, cabbage worms, and aphids can damage cauliflower plants. To control these pesky little guys invite predatory insects and spiders into your garden by planting host plants such as dwarf zinnias. You can also make your garden inviting to the insectivores of the bird world, so they too can help control the population. Placing row covers over your plants is also a way to help keep out unwanted insects.
A Flower Indeed
The name cauliflower is from the Latin terms caulis (cabbage) and floris (flower). The cauliflower is aptly named since the curd is actually an undeveloped flower. This edible flower has a history that dates back to the 6th century B.C.E., with its origins rooted in the Mediterranean region. Around the 12th century there are accounts of a few varieties of cauliflower being cultivated in Spain. Today it’s grown in a variety of locations and assortment of colors.
A Cauli-ful (and Nutritious) Rainbow
White, orange, purple, green, and yellow, oh my! Yes, cauliflower does indeed come in a variety of colors, and they are all natural, no artificial dyes added here. These different colors are from crossbreeding and not considered a genetically modified organism (GMO). The great thing about the variety of color is that the different pigments add different nutritional benefits. Purple pigments offer the powerful polyphenol anthocyanin and the orange and yellow offer the benefits of carotenoids.
Eating cauliflower offers many nutritional benefits that come standard, no matter the color. When consuming 100g of raw cauliflower you will receive 25 calories, 0g fat, 2g protein, and 5g of carbohydrates (3g of which is dietary fiber). That same raw cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C and K-1. It’s also a good source of Vitamins B-6 and B-9 (folate), and minerals potassium and manganese. So between the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and polyphenols, cauliflower is a champion at reducing inflammation and the risk of developing chronic diseases.
To enjoy cauliflower and reap its nutritional benefits, you can eat it raw or use it to cook up some delicious recipes. One of my favorite recipes for cauliflower is making pizza crust. Next time you are in the mood for pizza give this crust recipe a try.
Cheesy Cauliflower Pizza Crust
1 head cauliflower (any color you like), coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425°F
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
In a food processor, combine the cauliflower and garlic
Pulse until it resembles a fine meal
Transfer to a large bowl
Add the cheeses, eggs, and herbs
Add salt and pepper to taste
Press cauliflower crust into a ½” thick circle on prepared baking sheet
Bake until crisp and turns golden brown on the edges (25 to 30 minutes)
Remove from the oven
This is where I leave off. I have found that pizza preference is a truly individual and highly personally defended choice. I will in no way instruct (or judge) you on what toppings to add to make your own and ideal pizza. Just know that once you have topped it to perfection, cook the pizza an additional 20 minutes, let cool a bit, and enjoy! Magnifico!
Challenge Established and Accepted
Just because cauliflower may be the difficult member of the mustard family, this doesn’t mean you should give up on it. As with any wayward family member, it will require a little extra TLC, patience, and diligence to create a capable crop. Time your planting, watch for frost, and soon you will reap the rewards of your persistence. With so many uses and nutritional benefits taking on the challenge of growing cauliflower is worth the effort and time. Plus, in the end there’s pizza involved! So summon your inner gardening (or pizza) ninja, accept the challenge, and grow on!
Aggie Horticulture. Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System. Cabbage Flowers for Food.
Fritz, V., et al. 2017. Regents of the University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Extension. Growing broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower in Minnesota.
University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. College of ACES. University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Cauliflower. https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/cauliflower.cfm