Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Resolution: You Can Grow That!

The weather outside is frightful, but I'll admit it—I'm spoiled. As a former northern girl, I'm in garden bliss living in zone 7b. In our little piece of garden paradise, Upstate South Carolina's moderate winters allows us obsessive garden types the opportunity to grow year around. With only a minimal investment of time and money, simple low tunnels keep us in produce all winter long. (See here.)

I've always planted fall crops of lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach, but this is the first year I have three full raised beds crowded with cool weather crops, as well as a potager filled with deliciousness. Along with my tried and true crops, I added cauliflower to the mix.

Isn't it so pretty?

I hesitated to grow cauliflower. I heard stories that it's temperamental. Challenging. Bug infused. High maintenance.

But then, in the throes of garden center delirium, I purchased a few transplants.
And tonight, Peter and I feasted on homegrown cauliflower.

Isn't it amazingly satisfying to eat from your yard?

(Of course, Mikey believes we're trying to poison him after we insisted he eat one floret. I'm currently enjoying a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau as my rewarding for sitting at the dinner table for 30 minutes while he fussed and choked on the single piece of cauliflower. Yeesh.)

So, before you listen to the naysayers who tell you that you'll spend hours every day defending your cauliflower transplants from cabbage worms, let me assure you—you can grow cauliflower.

Here's how:

Cauliflower is a member of the Brassica family and grows best in a rich, well-drained soil. Keep pH at 5.8 to 6.5. This cool season vegetable prefers averages temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees. Plant early enough in the season to harvest before temperatures become too hot, or in my case—plant in the fall if your winter is mild or you can install low tunnels to protect the plant from freezing.

Space cauliflower in rows that are three feet apart and 18 inches between plants to allow for adequate growth. Water deeply—light watering will encourage shallow root development. Keep consistently moist.

Cauliflower is a heavy feeder, and nitrogen is important for the plant to produce a good crop.

To ensure the visual appeal of your cauliflower, it's best to shade the heads (called “blanching”) so that they don't become discolored. Some leaves may naturally grow over the forming head to provide shade from too much direct sunlight (which can also make the cauliflower taste bitter). However, a bit of gardener assistance is easy to provide. Gather outer leaves of the plant to join over the top of the head, then clip with a clothespin. After a strong rain, though, unclip so that water isn't standing on the head, which can cause rot. Allow to dry out, then cover the head again. A bit of discoloration typically doesn't affect taste, but too much heat and direct sunlight can affect taste.

Cauliflower grown in the fall garden tends to require less attention to pest control than spring-grown cauliflower. Honestly, I haven't picked one cabbage worm off of the cauliflower, but I know from experience with spring school gardens that you must be vigilant in warmer weather. Hand picking worms is the best organic method of control. (And kids love the challenge of finding the creepy critters.)

Companion planting can also assist in controlling pests that enjoy cauliflower. For instance, celery planted along with cauliflower deters white cabbage butterfly and cabbage worms. Aromatic herbs planted near the bed can improve the health and flavor of cauliflower and deters white cabbage worm by repelling egg-laying butterflies. However, please NOTE: Mint can be very invasive! Plant mint in a container and place near the cauliflower.

Additionally, the following herbs also benefit the health of cauliflower and other brassicas:

Oregano: Repels cabbage butterfly.
Rosemary: Deters cabbage moth.
Sage: Repels cabbage flies, black flea beetle, cabbage looper, cabbage maggot.
Thyme: Deters cabbage worm, white fly.
Wormwood: Repels animals in the garden when used as a border. Repels moths, flea beetles, and cabbageworm butterfly.
Harvest 60 to 70 days after planting transplants, when head is fully developed and before curds begin to separate. Leave a ruffle of leaves surrounding the head when harvesting to prolong freshness and quality. Store in the refrigerator.
Soak cauliflower in cold water with a bit of salt and vinegar to flush out any aphids. For quick cooking, separate the head into florets.

Cauliflower can be eaten raw, steamed, stir fried, or in soup.

We tend to simply steam cauliflower or eat it raw. But homegrown cauliflower really deserves more attention, perhaps a celebratory soup for your success in growing cauliflower!

French Cream of Cauliflower Soup
From Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters
Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 large cauliflower head (2 to 3 pounds)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons créme fraîche
  • Salt
  • Nutmeg
  • Chervil
  1. Cut off the stem of the cauliflower and any green leaves. Break up the head into florets. Wash them in cold water and reserve a few florets to garnish the soup.
  2. Peel and slice the onion thin. In a soup pot, stew the onion slices and the florets in the butter with a little water for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, without letting them brown. Add water to cover and cook for 25 minutes, covered, over medium heat. Meanwhile, parboil the reserved florets in boiling salted water for 8 minutes or so, keeping them crunchy.
  3. Purée the soup in a blender and reheat gently to just under boiling. Add the créme fraîche and season with salt and nutmeg to taste. Serve the soup very hot, garnished with the whole florets and a few springs of chervil.
As you sip your delicious soup, aren't you glad that you grew cauliflower?

On the 4th of each month, visit You Can Grow That! to discover what other garden bloggers are growing.

Happy winter gardening!

XO ~



  1. You are almost making me want to grow cauliflower. I say almost because I absolutely am a cauliflower hater. I do not like the taste or the smell but you are making it hard to continue my dislike.

    1. Laila, it's funny--I never liked it until last year! Now, I really like it. I think I always had overcooked, mushy cauliflower in the past. I want to try a cauliflower gratin next!

  2. Well done! I've never grown cauliflower before because I am the only one in the family that likes it. I think my kids would be of the same mind as your son "I was trying to poison them" LOL! I am going to try making your cauliflower soup. Sounds delicious! I am thinking I can freeze it and pull out small portions just for me! :o)

    1. Karin, I know what you mean--at least I know hubby will eat it. (I had to fuss because he was eating the head I planned to use for dinner as a snack!) Our kids are not good PR for my organic heirloom veggie plant business. They like to help plant, but they are veggie adverse. We grow lots of peas, because they actually eat those without fuss.
      Ah, parenting joys... ;-)

  3. have you tried roasting cauliflower? a little olive oil, s + P and it is so delish. my favorite way to eat it.

    we tried a fall planting of broccoli and cauliflower and both failed miserably. the bugs ate them down to nothing. next fall--row covers!!

    1. Aubree--I think that's exactly why I've had good success this year. I planted a little later than I intended, and for the most part--the gardens have been covered with low tunnels. It really helped keep the critters away.

      And I'm definitely planning to roast it--I haven't in the past, but I've heard it's delicious! Good luck with your next attempt.

  4. It's beautiful Julie! I bet it tastes ever so great! Mikey will come to love it-hopefully! Happy New Year to you!

    1. Happy New Year to you, Tina! Every time the kids turn their noses up at veggies, I just think of our oldest son, who is now 22. He lived on chicken nuggets, Kraft mac and cheese, and hot dogs for the first 8 years of his life--I'm ashamed. Now, he will eat anything (except eggs.) There is still hope for Mikey and Kristen. ;-)

  5. I had one of Penny Parisi's cauliflowers last week, wonderful!! We had most of it roasted in the oven. I love many veggies roasted. Good for you to have success with it.

    1. I wish I lived closer to you, because every time I see Penny's updates on FB of what she's harvested for market, I'm tempted to drive to Greenwood! I'm definitely planning on roasting the next batch.

  6. Your garden looks lovely. Our winter has allowed me to still have a few veggies in the garden. Love the recipe!

    1. Thank you! Our winter is crazy this year--it's been quite cold (for SC), but this week it's incredibly warm--and expected to be in the 70s over the weekend. My poor cold weather crops don't know what to think! (But I'm glad I remembered to remove the low tunnels, otherwise they would be cooked in the garden!) ;-)

  7. I adore cauliflower and I hope to try growing it this spring. Gardening is challenge for me and this year's moderate success lies squarely on the shoulders of my husband and daughter, who's tackling her JMG with 4-H. (I'll bet you can guess which parent she goes to for help in these projects!)

    I'll have to bookmark this for tips on growing cauliflower this spring. I'm going to start stalking (a little celery humor there folks!) your blog archive for other great articles on some of the veggies we plan to try. Thank you so much! :)

  8. Deena Resse PoulsenApril 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    I thought I was growing white cauliflower and it came up purple. Is that from not covering the head as you described with the clothes pin? It freaked me out so I didn't eat it. I did plant broccoli with it and had wonderful success with that. My carrots didn't seamed to work well either (not big enough and not much quantity). I have been told mix seeds with radishes to get better harvest of carrots(they will grow together one helping the other not requiring so much thinning). I figure for my first year of gardening I had good success. I planted broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, potatoes, peas, zucchini, straight and crook necked squash, cucumber. I have lots of space so I will add beans, sweet peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkin. My space is 200 ft long by 4 feet. I love veggies and want to be as self sufficient as possible if I can grow it why not?If you have pointers for me I would gladly like to hear them. Thank you for the help with cauliflower. I hope that solves my issue :).