Garden Fresh: Cultivating Cauliflower

Garden Fresh: Cultivating Cauliflower
Photo by John Kiely

If Trader Joe's wasn't coming to Houston, I wouldn't bother with growing cauliflower, but TJ's Creamy Cilantro Dressing turns this meh veg into a dish. Like broccoli, it's a crop that thrives in cooler temperatures, so it's joining the fall crop rotation.

Cauliflower can be grown from seed, but small transplants are a better start. I always depend on Southwest Fertilizer to have the correct plants -- and the best varieties for this area -- at the correct time to plant them, but the plants are also available at Cornelius/Calloway's and Buchanan's Native Plants in the Heights.

I chose the Snoball variety for a simple reason. Cauliflower heads need to be shielded from the sun to remain white, in a process called blanching. Otherwise the heads will turn yellow. Snoballs are self-blanching, meaning the plant will curl its leaves around the head, without me having to tie the leaves together over the head. Who'd guess that a plant could be so considerate of human aesthetics?

Now is the time to start planting cauliflower. Normally I'd place the transplants in the garden, two feet apart, in rows two feet apart, but instead I'm going to put them in the former pots of plants slaughtered by The Drought. The soil in the pots is already rich with lots of humus and other organic matter, and I can keep a closer eye on them, as cauliflower requires even moisture throughout its life cycle.

Cauliflower plants like fertilizer, too, high on the nitrogen count, about every two or three weeks. It takes about two months to realize fully grown heads, with compact curds, as the segments of cauliflower are called, so they'll arrive just in time to bore the holiday visitors, unless they smuggle cilantro dressing.

On a related note, now's the time to pick up some Green Goliath broccoli seeds to plant in a few weeks. This is the sixth year we've planted broccoli, and I still haven't tasted better.

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