Those of you who prefer to grow your food rather than indulge in “hunger games” may be enticed, as I am, into growing varieties of cauliflower. Recipes for riced, roasted, baked, stir-fried and charred cauliflower are flooding internet and print media, so seed vendors are stepping up to the plate with various colors and configurations of cauliflower.
In addition to the traditional white heads, John Scheepers Kitchen Gardens offers seeds for purple, orange, pale green and a new product, stick cauliflower. The latter features white curds on green stems. They also are calling the ornate Romanesco heads “broccoflower” instead of a broccoli variation. Most other seed companies carry at least some of the colored cauliflowers, and Territorial Seed carries seeds for a “mulberry” colored cauliflower.
I’ve found white cauliflower is sometimes difficult to grow here because we usually experience several cold days in early spring when cauliflower should be setting heads, but instead sets a button. Some say once it sets a button that will never grow into a head, but a friend did not pull out the plant once that happened, and it did grow into a head. Buttoning may occur on broccoli, too, but cauliflower is the touchiest of the cole crops.
My first cauliflower success was in growing the orange variety. If you’re new to growing cauliflower, look for varieties that are said to be “self blanching” or “self wrapping” for gathering huge leaves together and tying them like a scrunchy over the developing head is tricky. Unblanched cauliflower, exposed to direct sun, turns a dirty yellow color and may be bitter.
Other causes of buttoning may be insect damage, lack of moisture, weed competition, or shortage of nitrogen. Cauliflower can be damaged by freezing, but it grows best in cool weather. Seedlings should not be older than five weeks when transplanted. Older seedlings are more prone to transplant shock than four to five week old seedlings. Putting them out for cool growth and not damaging cold is a gamble.
Cauliflower plants are large, taking up a lot of room, but if you grow those that produce in spring they can be set out before all danger of frost is past and harvested in late spring or very early summer so they can be harvested and the plant pulled out so that something else can be planted in the same spot. They should be spaced at least 18 inches apart, rows 30 inches apart, well watered and fertilized.
I’m also growing a lot of dry bean varieties because they’re easily stored, very nutritious, and help keep blood sugar low in diabetics. I love bean soups, augmented with diced onions and spiced with Summer Savory, an annual herb easily grown.
Several attractive dry beans are pole beans that begin producing late in summer. Bush beans for harvest and use as dry beans produce earlier and I think more abundantly than pole beans, and I prefer them, but still love some of the pole beans such as Mayflower and Good Mother Stallard, and Tarbais Alaric, the latter especially good in cassoulet.
I watch bean plants closely after they begin setting pods, and when I spot a number of dry tan-colored pods, we pick them all, spreading the still-green pods on hardware cloth frames on the greenhouse bench. Once all are dry, we put them in cardboard boxes, and one by one, I shell them while watching television. I usually cut plants off about soil line, leaving roots in the soil to distintegrate, adding organic matter (and possibly nitrogen-fixing bacteria) in the soil.
Send garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.