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(Brassica oleracea botrytis)

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To us, at least, cauliflower seems like a wimp’s broccoli. As with zucchini, there is a huge literature on ways to sauce up cauliflower—cheese sauces seem particularly popular—but, as we say elsewhere, wouldn’t kraft paper taste good in such yummy sauces? Does anyone actually eat plain steamed cauliflower with, at most, a little butter?

Couple its being insipid with its being a true pain in the elbow to grow—satisfactorily growing caulis is considered the acid test of home-gardening skill—and one must wonder “Why bother?” But here is the scoop for dogged fans of the thing.

From the literature in general and the Cornell “Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners” database in particular, the best choice seems to be Snow Crown, a fast-growing fair-sized hybrid said to be frost-hardy down to perhaps as low as 25°. We reckon that in our climate, one could direct-seed around August 13th for harvest around the start of October—but even if it runs later, no problem. (The adventuresome might try it as a spring planting circa late April for harvest circa late June.)

Snow Crown is described as “self-blanching”, but many gardeners growing it disagree. If you grow it, blanch it yourself to be safe.

Galleon Cauliflower.

Looking at all the many problems of growing these little snowflakes, we think the over-wintering approach is better. That, too, is a small gamble, because even “over-wintering” caulis are not bullet-proof as to frosts and freezes. Still, our chosen cultivar, selected after some review, is said to “withstand frost from 16°F to -5°F, depending on wind and snow cover”; considering that on average (an ever-dangerous term!) our coldest overnight low of the year is 16°F., we feel it a reasonable gamble. That cultivar is the Galleon (that’s it at the right); it’s a British development, and seed is not easy (but not impossible) to come by in the U.S.

(There are other over-wintering caulis; one said to also be pretty good is Purple Cape, which—obviously—is a purple cauli; seeds are not truly commoon, but are more readily available than for Galleon. As far as we can tell from the literature, one would grow it just as for Galleon. It is a very old variety, introduced from South Africa in 1808. Others include Prestige and All the Year Round, both also scarce but findable.)


Plant seed ¼ to ½ inch deep. In a deep-dug bed, space the plants at about 16" (and as they grow in, they will form a leaf canopy sometimes called a “living mulch” of shade). It is wise to use several seeds at each spot, then thin to the strongest when they emerge.


For a fall crop of Snow Crown (probably the better option), direct-seed around August 13th for harvest around the start of October; as a spring planting, sow circa late April for harvest circa late June.

For over-wintering Galleon or Purple Cape, it’s less clear. What is wanted is a plant about 6" tall by first fall frost, which for us is early to middle October. It thus looks like direct-seeding in very early July is the target. (One source said “A mid- to late-June indoor seeding and late-July or early-August transplanting work well in most garden conditions.”)

The Bed

Unlike many other vegetables, cauliflower actually prefers a rather heavy soil, firmly tamped. (Light-textured soils can produce earlier crops, but heavier soils better hold moisture.) The soil pH is ideally “sweet” (non-acidic), hence the frequent references in the literature to liming the soil for them—but it’s not lime as such, it’s the right pH that they need (a high pH also helps control clubroot disease, but you and we carefully rotate our Brassicas—you do, yes?—so that’s not much of an issue with us). Something about pH 6.8 seems about right. The soil should not be fertilized heavily, since rich soil since can encourage soft, sappy growth that is more susceptible to cold damage. Cauliflowers want a sunny spot for growing.


Cauliflowers need lots of water, supplied on an even, regular basis. They don’t mind wet leaves—indeed, they seem to rather like them—so water heavily. At recommended spacings, you should have a “living-mulch” leaf canopy (though putting on some organic mulch would help), but in any event weed scrupulously. Top-dressing the plants mid-season with fish or seaweed fertilizer is also a good idea.

And don’t forget to timely blanch the young heads.

Harvest cauliflower heads while the curds are still tightly packed, before the heads start to “rice” and the curds to loosen. Cut a good bit of the stem along with the head.


Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful:

Odds and Ends


Cauliflower is a member of the Brassica family, which also includes broccoli (a close relative), Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabagas, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, and various lesser crops like seakale and the true cresses (notably watercress). It is naturally a biennial plant; its flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are typically pollinated by bees, making the plant self-fertile.


The history of cauliflower is part of the overall history of cole crops (for which see the page on broccoli). As tastes in southern Europe shifted to eating the immature flower buds of cole crops, the newer varities began to emerge from their common ancestor. By the 15th century, the vegetable we today know as cauliflower had developed (this is, curiously, about a century before modern broccoli emerged.) Cauliflower was mainly restricted to Italy till the 16th century, when—with so much else of food from Italy—it was introduced to France, and thence eventually to other areas of Europe. It was first grown in North America in the late 1600s.


The growth pattern of cauliflower curds is one of many things in nature that illustrate the curious mathematical series known as Fibonacci numbers.

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