Cauliflower is one of those staple kitchen vegetables which makes us think of cauliflower cheese perhaps, but please don’t relegate it to that one dish as it can do so much more! After all, homemade piccalilli wouldn’t be the same without small chunks of cauliflower sticking through the turmeric and mustard spiced sauce; neither would a deliciously spicy Aloo Gobi curry, with its soft potatoes and cauliflower pieces. Traditionally a boiled vegetable, cauliflower is now finding new fans who love it raw with dips or made into ‘rice’.
Cauliflowers are part of the brassica family, so they’re related to cabbages and kales, yet it’s the immature flower - otherwise known as a curd - that is the main affair with this allotment favorite, not the leaf, as with others in the family. That said, I do like to steam the smaller, younger leaves which surround the curd - they’re delicious!
When it comes to growing cauliflowers there are a few things to remember which can help increase your success with them and stave off disaster. You need to make sure you are growing the right cauliflower for the time of year; they can’t all be grown at the same time, and some perform better than others at certain times of the year. Check the seed packet to see when you can sow and harvest the plants, and always try to stick within these limits. Some are better spring-sown, while others prefer to be sown in autumn, grown through winter, and harvested in the following spring. Then there are a few such as ‘All The Year Round’, which will crop almost all year and can be sown successionally spring and autumn.
You can start seed off in a seedbed if you like, but I prefer to start them in trays or modules (especially the more expensive F1 varieties) as I don’t want hungry slugs to eat the seedlings. Cauliflowers are pretty hardy, so don’t need any additional heat to get them started. A cold greenhouse or cold-frame will suffice as long as it's around 8-10C (46-50F); after all, you want stocky plants, not leggy ones which get battered by the weather. You should sow seeds around 0.5cm (¼in) deep into good-quality compost. They should germinate in about14 days. Then, when large enough to handle, you can either pot them on before planting them out or transplant them from their seedbed to where they are to grow, around 50-75cm (20-30in) apart (depending on what type of cauliflower they are).
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