The cultivation of cauliflower usually begins in the autumn period. We are talking about a vegetable highly appreciated in Italy, but it requires some care. However, it is easily plantable in one’s own garden and can be cultivated until the arrival of the first winter frosts.
Its distinctive aroma makes it unmistakable in the kitchen, where it is used in many recipes. On the other hand, this vegetable offers numerous health benefits, making it a great addition to our diet.
Today, we explore the cultural practices to follow and delve into the organic defense against pests and diseases.
Characteristics of Cauliflower
Cauliflower, Brassica oleracea, is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Crucifer or Brassicaceae family.
Together with black broccoli, which shares similar characteristics, cauliflower is the most cultivated cruciferous vegetable in our country, particularly in the central and southern regions.
At the adult stage, it appears as a multi-formed composition of leaves. At its center, the edible part, called corimbo or inflorescence, grows.
The leaves develop from the stem and are large and voluminous at the bottom. They have a dark green color and gradually decrease in size towards the center, ending with small, lighter-colored leaves that cover and enclose the corimbo, the part that emerges from the repeated branching of the plant’s terminal stem.
This edible part can take on various shapes and sizes, depending mainly on the variety.
The coloration can also differ depending on the species, ranging from the classic white to more original colors such as purple, green, or yellow-orange.
However, when cultivating cauliflower, the distinction between varieties, as we have seen for turnip tops, mostly concerns the growth period.
They can be classified into early cauliflower varieties, which form smaller corimbo in a shorter time, medium/late varieties that take 75-90 days to develop with medium-sized edible parts, and late cauliflower varieties with a 100-120 day growing period and large-sized corimbo.
The choice of variety depends on your cultivation conditions and the transplanting period, but we will delve into this in a subsequent paragraph.
Culinary Uses and Nutritional Values of Cauliflower
Cauliflower cultivation is essential as this vegetable lends itself to a myriad of culinary recipes. It is generally not consumed raw but rather cooked. The simplest way to prepare it is by boiling and using it in salads with oil, lemon, and various seasonings.
Another common way to use cauliflower in the kitchen is by baking it in casseroles, after boiling it and adding various cheeses.
Naturally, like any vegetable, some nutrients are lost during cooking, which remain in the cooking water. Cauliflower contains only 40 kcal per 100 gr.
Thus, it is advisable for those following a low-calorie diet. It has a high energy value, being rich in proteins (5.5 gr), carbohydrates (4.4 gr), and fibers (2.4 gr), making it highly suitable for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. This vegetable also contains iron, making it an excellent choice for those who avoid meat.
It is a good source of vitamin A (µg) 60 and vitamin C (28 mg).
It is a healthy and energizing food at the same time.
Let’s now explore the organic techniques for cauliflower cultivation. This plant can bring great satisfaction to the home garden; the key is to follow some tips for successful cultivation.
Cauliflower cultivation prefers cooler climates. It is a classic vegetable consumed during the winter months. Therefore, it is usually planted at the end of summer and in the autumn months.
We have already discussed these types of cultivations, which start from August and September and continue throughout the autumn, reaching the peak during winter. Other vegetables following a similar schedule are fennel and turnip tops.
Of course, these times can vary. In regions with particularly cold winters and the possibility of November frosts, for example, it is advisable to transplant the cauliflower into the field in August or early September, choosing medium-early varieties. Most vegetables do not tolerate frost well, and cauliflower is no exception to this rule.
When hit by frost, the corimbo turns yellow, becomes hard, and tends to form mold.
Conversely, in more Mediterranean regions where intense cold is sporadic, cauliflower cultivation can continue smoothly throughout winter until spring. In this case, you can transplant the cauliflower later, starting from the beginning of autumn, and opt for later varieties with a growth period of up to 120 days.
It’s worth noting that cauliflower is usually not sown. Instead, seedlings are prepared or purchased, as we discussed in this article. This choice affects the transplanting or sowing period, so be sure to calculate your timings accurately.
Soil and Earthing Up
Cauliflower cultivation involves the development of fibrous roots of medium depth. The soil that hosts them should be well-loosened and soft, facilitating their initial development, which is crucial for successful cultivation. In this sense, an essential agricultural practice is earthing up (or blanching), which can be carried out about a month after transplantation.
In the picture, with cauliflowers in the center, the plants have just been earthed up. This helps the plants thicken their stems, achieve better balance, and become more resistant to the wind. Through earthing up, we simultaneously remove weeds, which will no longer be necessary throughout the cultivation. This is because the plant will expand and overshadow the weeds, depriving them of light and space.
Planting Distances and Irrigation
Cauliflower needs space to grow properly. The recommended distances are: 40 cm between plants and 50 cm between rows. In the greenhouse, when cultivating late varieties, I leave 60 cm between one plant and another.
These plants tend to spread and develop impressive vegetation.
In cauliflower cultivation, water should never be lacking. It is essential for proper vegetative development.
In open fields, irrigation can be avoided only after rain, but on other days, you will need an adequate watering system for support.
Of course, it is advisable to avoid waterlogging, as it can lead to mold formation.
Organic Pest Control
Cauliflower cultivation is subject to attacks from some pests. These vegetables are a favored meal for certain insect species that attack the tender leaves for nourishment and growth. The main pests are the cabbage white butterfly, snails, and flea beetles.
Cabbage White Butterfly
We have already discussed the cabbage white butterfly extensively. In this context, we will recall that it can be effectively combated by using Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki and a macerate of tomato leaves and female flowers as a preventive measure.
To solve the cabbage white butterfly problem, you can use Bacillus thuringiensis varietà kurstaki, available here.
Keep in mind that if the cabbage white butterfly attack occurs during the early stages of growth, the damage can be significant. A plant with compromised foliage will develop poorly.
So, it is essential to intervene during this phase. Later, the vegetation is such that a mild attack can be ignored, especially because, at that point, it will be the cold season, and the lepidopteran’s reproductive cycle will stop.
Flea Beetles and Rocket
Another dangerous pest for cauliflower is the flea beetle, or garden flea. We must also be vigilant during the initial growth phase when the plant is more vulnerable.
To protect our cauliflower cultivation and counter this pest, we recommend a specific companion planting with rocket.
Flea beetles love rocket and prefer it over cauliflowers. By sowing rocket among cauliflower plants, we obtain natural protection from this pest. This allows our cauliflower plants to grow vigorously and undisturbed. Thus, if the cauliflower is attacked by the pest, we can remove the rocket just before it becomes covered by cauliflower vegetation.
We have discussed snails extensively in a previous article. For the complete treatment and organic defense against snails, we refer to that post.
In this context, we emphasize that cauliflower cultivation is a paradise for snails. This vegetable represents the ideal shelter for them. They hide, especially when they are small, among the cauliflower corimbo. Small snails do not cause excessive damage, but they become quite a nuisance when cleaning the fruit.
Cauliflower reaches maturity when the corimbi are well-formed and clearly emerge from the center of the plant. Additionally, they should be white and compact. You must avoid delaying the harvest and prevent the individual flowers forming the corimbo from spreading apart.
The size of the corimbo differs depending on the variety you have chosen. Some cultivars can exceed 25 cm in diameter and reach up to 2 kg in weight.
Typically, a medium-early variety produces corimbi weighing around 1 kg.
When cutting cauliflower, it is advisable to leave some leaves that wrap around and protect it. Another precaution is not to expose freshly harvested cauliflower to direct sunlight to avoid yellowing.
Excessive Vegetation and Domestic Compost
As mentioned several times, cauliflower cultivation produces a large amount of vegetation. The edible part, the corimbo, is quantitatively limited compared to the overall size. Thus, the question arises: “What to do with all this plant matter?”
The advice we give is to use the discarded vegetation for domestic composting.
Another solution is to bury the waste during soil processing to add organic matter. Finally, if you have domestic animals (chickens, geese, horses, goats), know that they are insatiable devourers of cauliflower leaves.
- Illinois State University: “Healthy eating: Getting creative with cauliflower” – This resource discusses the health benefits of cauliflower, which is high in fiber and helps control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels.
- University of California, Los Angeles: “Here’s to Your Health” – This resource mentions that cauliflower is an excellent source of dietary fiber, folate, and vitamins C and K.
- University of Kentucky: “Cauliflower” – This resource provides information about cauliflower, a cool-season crop in the crucifer family that is closely related to broccoli and cabbage.
- University of Wisconsin: “Healthy Seasonal Produce: Cauliflower” – This resource provides information on when cauliflower is in season and how to select, store, and prepare fresh cauliflower.
- University of Delaware: “Cauliflower | Cooperative Extension” – This resource provides general information about cauliflower, including its sunlight and shade requirements.