Move over kale, cauliflower is the new king of the cruciferous vegetables.
Popping up on menus, in food magazines and soon at farmers markets, cauliflower is set to become 2015’s ‘it’ vegetable. Sushi, pizza crust, Alfredo sauce, sloppy Joes and fried rice are just some of the foodstuffs people are making with cauliflower.
While Georgians might not associate cauliflower with their Southern gardens, the early spring crop can be grown in Georgia with patience and time, said Robert Westerfield, a consumer horticulturist with University of Georgia Extension.
Picking a Variety
The first step is selecting which variety to plant, Westerfield said. Cauliflower comes in four colors—purple, white, green and orange—and two floret shapes—standard and spiraled.
In order for cauliflower to develop the best color and flavor, some varieties need to be blanched, or have a layer of leaves tied around the head when the cauliflower is about the size of a baseball. In some self-blanching varieties, the leaves naturally grow around the head, protecting the cauliflower from the sun.
Varieties that grow well in Georgia include:
- Snow Crown—White, 50 days to harvest and must be tied
- Imperial—White, 60 days to harvest and must be tied
- Cheddar—Orange, 68 days to harvest and self-blanching
- Graffiti—Purple, 75 days to harvest and self-blanching
- Veronica Romanesco—Green (spirals), 80 days to harvest and self-blanching
Preparing the Seedlings
Cauliflower should be planted as seedlings in March or, for a fall crop, in September or October. Seedlings can be grown or purchased from a local garden store. If growing seedlings, allow four to six weeks for them to sprout before moving them outside. Whether or not you purchase or grow seedlings, it is important to "harden them off" before they are moved outside.
“Leave them outside for a few hours every day for three days. Leave them out overnight on the third day,” Westerfield said. They are then ready to withstand the outside temperature and go into the ground.
Westerfield recommends planting a few cauliflower seedlings every week to lengthen harvest time. Planting all of the cauliflower at once means they will be ready for harvest at the same time.
Cauliflower grows best in rich soil, so organic matter should be mixed in with heavy or clay soils for best results. The ideal soil pH for growing cauliflower is between 6.5 and 6.8. If you cannot test the soil pH, 1.5 to 2 pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer should be applied per 50 square feet of garden area. After the initial fertilization, 1 pound of 5-10-5 fertilizer should be applied monthly every 50 square feet.
Cauliflower needs at least six to eight hours of sunlight daily, so make sure to plant seedlings in a sunny area. Till the bed to a depth of 6 to 10 inches, incorporating 4 inches of good organic matter into the mix. Seedlings should be planted in rows 18 to 24 inches apart, with 24 inches between rows. Plants should be watered daily for their first week outside, then every four to five days as needed.
Harvesting, Storing and Preparing
Harvest the heads when they are between 6 and 8 inches in diameter. Cut at the base using a sharp knife.
Once harvested, cauliflower stays fresh for up to a week in the fridge, or longer if blanched and frozen. Cauliflower’s texture makes it an ideal replacement for meat and starches in recipes. It tastes great and is high in vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber.
For adventurous gardeners, cauliflower can be a rewarding new addition to the garden and can lead to many fun culinary experiments.
For more information about vegetable gardening in Georgia visit extension.uga.edu/publications.
(Josie Krogh is a student writer with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)