Come on cauli, come on, come on...

07 September, 2012

Finally it looks like I might just have a cauliflower.

The cauliflowers were sown in early February with the rest of the brassicas. I have grown three types; Purple Sicily, Mini White and Macerata Green. These were direct sown outside in the front yard in the cherry tree bed after I pulled out the last of the corn crop.

As well as the aforementioned caulis I also sowed Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Romanesco in the same bed. I aimed for about five or six plants of each. Some seedlings were eaten early on my bugs, so I repeated sowings in March thinking this would also be good for staggering the crop.

Obviously I was getting ahead of myself expecting a crop at all.

There were a few set backs due to these bastards attacking the plants over late summer and autumn.

But some dipel soon fixed that. Over the late autumn months they grew well. But then we hit winter and there they stayed.

I've been reading a few bloggers posting about their cauli harvests over winter and have been thinking 'surely it can't be long now'. But alas, despite weekly checkups they have remained stubbornly cauli-less.

Until now.

Only one of the Purple Sicily plants seems to be doing anything, and it is by far the biggest of all the plants.

I'm hoping the others will catch up soon and I will get a crop before the summer weather makes them bolt and not produce decent heads.

But right now I want to know what I did wrong. Perhaps as the soil had previously grown corn, which is a heavy feeder, the soil was a bit depleted. I did lime the soil well, as brassica's need the calcium (or is it to do with pH and availability of nutrients?) so that shouldn't have been an issue. Is it that I planted too late, and should have sown seeds in December or January for winter crops?

And so I have gone back to my books. I have many books on growing veg which have been invaluable along the veg growing journey, and so I went straight to my favourites.

Looking up cauliflower I picked up the following, with my notes in italics;
From 'The Practical Australian Gardener' by (my hero) Peter Cundall
  • Sow or plant types of cauli that mature in 4-6 months in Feb.
  • Soak the seed in seaweed concentrate prior to sowing to prevent whip tail (or alternatively use a weak solution of sodium molybdate - a thimbleful in a bucket - for the first water after sowing or as a foliar spray)
  • Brassica's can be easily be grown all the year round in most parts of Australia. Hmmm. Does anyone grow brassica's all year round? I thought they didn't grow well in the summer months, but this may just some gardening old wives tale.
  • Cauli's can be fed heavily using plenty of manure. Damn, I think this is one of the main areas I fell down. Perhaps if I sprinkle a bit of blood and bone it might just give them a boost?
From 'Fork to Fork' by Monty and Sarah Don
  • Cauli's prefer a well-drained (tick), well manured (fail) in an open position (tick).
  • It is suggested that brassica's should be planted out in mid-late summer where peas or broad beans have been grown. This makes a lot of sense due to the nitrogen fixing properties of these legumes which should ensure the brassicas get enough nutrients. I think I'll try this next year.
 From 'Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion' by (you guessed it) Stephanie Alexander
  • As long as the soil is well drained and rich in organic matter no additional preparation is required
  • Plant December to April in a temperate climate and harvest after 4-5 months. Well, this is their 7th month now, so I definitely think mine are a bit behind the times!
  • Cauli's are very fertiliser hungry (I think I'm seeing a theme here) and a comfrey tea or liquid seaweed fertilizer around 4 weeks after sowing helps meet their needs.
From 'The Australian Fruit and Vegetable Garden' from The Diggers Club by Clive Blazey and Jane Varkulevicius
  • Cauli's have similar needs to other brassica's but are more demanding to grow (now you tell me!).
  • They insist on a pH of about 6.5 and they are prone to clubroot, so add some lime to your well manured soil. 
  • In warm regions plant your seedlings in late summer to autumn to avoid the heat which will make them bolt.

Well, after all that I definitely think I need to give them more manure next year and will try planting earlier and see if this helps. But for now all I can do is try and give them some extra feeding to help them along.

Does anyone have any other cauli growing tips?


  1. Re the growing brassicas all year round - I grow radishes all year round but thats about it - i find that the pests are too big of a pain for broccoli in late Spring - especially aphids, also mine have tended to have deformed flower heads, but that might be a variety thing. I think things like cabbage and cauli take up too much space to justify growing in summer.
    As for cauliflower tips - I struggle to get nice dense heads but I do usually get heads. i sow seed in late January/Febuary and harvest in winter - I pulled my last one yesterday. i did try romanesco this year and i left it on the plant way too long and it went really odd - my advice there would be to harvest the head relatively soon after it develops (having said that I haven't acutally managed it personally....).

  2. Yes, I didn't even consider the pest problems of that time of year! And so true for the space issue. Thanks for the tips!!

  3. Your lovely purple head is beautiful. All I managed was a bunch of leaves up to my knees. I got frustrated and threw it in the green waste, to disappointed to even compost it. But after reading your blog I am thinking perhaps I should have fertilised it. Next year I guess

    1. Thank you, but I should have taken another picture in my hand as it was pretty tiny. But rather tasty nonetheless. I still have lots of bunches of leaves, we shall see if they become more. Those plants may yet go the way of yours... Its amazing how much room they take up for one small fruit, if they didn't grow in winter when I don't use the space for anything else I doubt I'd bother to grow them!