So many people have been warned off growing cauliflowers – it is almost a case of ‘run for the hills’. I am not saying they are easy but ask your self should everything in life be easy? And let’s face it the reward for trying and succeeding is a really lovely tasty veg with the added satisfaction of “I grew that”. And so what if you have tried and not succeeded – it is a learning process, keep trying and the final reward is even more precious and it isn’t as if you have spent a fortune.
So having steeled yourself to try the next stage is to give yourself the best chance possible or rather give your seeds & plants the best chances. Think about the space you have: Igloo and Snowball are excellent for small spaces as you can grow Igloo for mini-caulis and Snowball can be close spaced. Self Blanche does need more room but once established you can use the space around them for cut-and-come-again salad. Caulis do not like acid soils so if that is your soil type think about growing them in a raised bed of compost or even containers – for the rest of us think about digging in lots of compost to make a rich and water retentive home for them. Dig deep and then firm the soil: it doesn’t need stomping on but whack with the flat of the spade to settle it down a bit (this is good for frustration and stress!!!) Only now can you start to sow.
Don’t mess about with seed beds. We start all our cauliflowers in pots or modules under cover to give them a good root system. They don’t like root disturbance so if this is your first time with caulis opt for individual pots as it is easier to get them out! First fill your pot with damp compost, give the bottom of the pot a sharp tap to settle the compost down then make a dip with the tip of your finger, pop in the seed and tuck in. Keep the posts moist but not waterlogged and grow on in a cold greenhouse or cold frame. Be careful about growing on a windowsill as you need firm growth and not leggy weaker stems so make sure you turn the pots daily and keep the room cool. You want your little plants to have 5-6 leaves so start to harden off after about 6 weeks so they are ready to transplant.
Water the pots well. Make a planting hole deep enough to take the entire root ball and plant to the level of its lowest leaves. Some say you should fill this hole with water before planting but we don’t. Now, with fingers either side of the stem, turn the pot upside down and with a little shake or tap the plant and all the soil around its roots should slide out (resist tugging the stem). Pop the root ball into the hole and firm in – make sure the plant is a little deeper than it was in the pot so the soil should just reach the lowest leaves. Water your newly planted caulis thoroughly. They need to be firmed into the firm soil because as they grow the tops get heavy and you are trying to avoid them tipping over and upsetting their root system
We net our caulis – it keeps both the birds and the butterflies off the plants. We give them a good watering every week and in hot weather try to keep the soil around them damp. If they go short of water it disrupts their growth and you end up with weird shaped curds. We feed them lightly when the curds are developing with a seaweed based feed but too much feed will encourage them to grow lots of leaves – not quite the result you are looking for. Basically you keep an eye on them, give them care and attention and harvest them when they are ready but before the curds start to open and separate from being a tight head.