Cauliflowers come in many different colours. Photo - Bobkeenan Photography/Shutterstock.com
Justin Russell says cauliflower is no cheesy addition to the vegetable patch; it’s a stand-alone star.
To this day, I can hear Mum's words ringing in my ear: "Just give it a try. It tastes like cheese." I was seven years old, and Mum was referring to cauliflower cheese, a dish that now masquerades under the trendier name ‘cauliflower gratin’. The question is, what kind of vegie has to taste like cheese to be palatable?
I've grown cauliflower since then, and now wonder what the fuss was about. Organically grown caulis are such a flavoursome addition to the winter garden that there's no need to smother them in cheese sauce. Actually, there's no need to smother them in anything - they're good enough to stand on their own.
Caulis have a reputation for being difficult to grow. In my experience they're no different to broccoli or cabbage, and in fact, the three plants are closely related and share similar growing needs. Caulis like rich, slightly alkaline soil, protection from pests, and a favourable climate.
In cold areas there's time to sow seed into punnets now, then plant out seedlings in a few week's time. You'll be harvesting heads in late winter or early spring. In warmer zones it's best to skip sowing seed and plant seedlings now. If you get caulis in too late you risk having the plants bolt to seed as the weather warms in spring.
Before planting, enrich your soil with well-rotted manure or compost, along with a handful per square metre of pelletised chook manure. If your soil is acidic, sweeten it by adding lime a couple of weeks after adding manure or fertiliser, give this a week to settle, then plant.
Harden seedlings against cold weather with fortnightly applications of seaweed extract (such as Seasol or Eco Seaweed), and keep autumn's warmth in the soil by covering it with a blanket of mulch - sugarcane or lucerne is ideal.
Knowing when to harvest requires keen observation. Pick too late and the plant is likely to bolt, so I always err on the side of picking early. As a rough guide, heads will be ready to pick from 90 to 120 days, depending on the variety, but keep a close eye on what the head is doing. If it is large and has a tight curd (without flower buds starting to burst), it's time to pick.
Pin up leaves over developing cauliflower will result in pure shite flowers. Photo - Christian Jung/Shutterstock.com
- Caterpillars can skeletonise cauliflower leaves if left unchecked. Frosty winters will keep them at bay until spring, but in warmer microclimates cover the plants with fine weave netting (such as Vege Net) or spray with Dipel.
- Aphids can infest the foliage in early spring. Spray them with horticultural soap or blast them off with a jet from the hose.
- Traditional white curd varieties can turn a sickly looking yellowish-green if exposed to excessive sunlight. To exclude light, pull leaves up over the heads and hold them in place with a couple of pegs.
Snowball ticks all the boxes. It is a relatively compact plant, produces pure white heads in around 100 days from planting, and tastes delicious.
Violet Sicilian rates among the prettiest of all vegetables. Huge purple heads are produced on large plants and the flavour is excellent. Heads are ready to pick in about 120 days.
Green Macerata produces huge lime green heads in as little as three months from planting. The flavour is first rate!
See what else Justin is growing at www.thistlebrookfarm.com