It may come as a surprise, but cauliflowers come in a range of colours and not simply the creamy white heads found in supermarkets. There are two main varieties of cauliflower, the more commonly grown summer types which are planted in the spring and picked from July onwards, and those sown later in the summer to overwinter and provide a spring harvest. Cauliflowers are big plants and will need approximately 60 centimetres spacing per plant as their outer leaves spread outwards, making the plants less suitable for small gardens.
Compared to other brassicas like broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower is relatively difficult to grow. Cauliflowers need a really rich soil, and they are not tolerant of dry conditions. They will need to be well watered throughout their growth, otherwise the plants may run to seed. The plants can also be damaged by frost and scorched by the sun.
The difficulty of growing cauliflower can be seen as a good reason to grow them, as it is a test of a gardener’s skill and dedication, and may be rewarded with a prize at an allotment show. Preparing cauliflowers for a show is particularly difficult, as the heads mature quickly and do not stand (keep) well. If left for too long, the curds (the flesh) will burst, looking like an uneven head that will soon discolour and start to separate.
Similar to other brassicas, cauliflowers leaves are loved by birds, especially pigeons, who will happily munch on them and potentially strip them back to their stalks. Cabbage white butterflies like to lay their eggs on the leaves, which will have a similar impact on the plants as soon as the caterpillars hatch. The solution is to cover the plants with butterfly netting, ensuring there is sufficient clearance to avoid either birds or butterflies reaching the leaves from outside of the net.
Cauliflowers are ready to harvest when they form a head at the centre of the plant and the leaves covering the head start to open, revealing the cauliflower within.