Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Broccoli and Cauliflower: A Royal Treat

Some many find this hard to swallow but broccoli and cauliflower had there start in royal gardens.  Originally broccoli was the name given to the tender shoots of overwintering cabbages.  These shoots were highly prized in royal gardens and selection and cultivation focusing on delicious shoot production resulted in sprouting broccoli and eventual the broccoli of today. Early broccoli was not green but purple. Plants with white curds appeared and were eventual cultivated into cauliflower.  So if you want to grow a crop fit for a king, grow broccoli and cauliflower.

Broccoli and cauliflower belong to the group Brassica oleracra.  There are eight subspecies in this group and they will all cross pollinate.  This group includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, and kohlrabi.  If you are saving seeds only allow one of these to flower and go to seed.

Both broccoli and cauliflower are biennial, frost tolerate plants that enjoy the cool spring and fall weather.  If you plant it right you can enjoy both a spring and fall crop and avoid mid summer. Hot summers seem to encourage aphids and poor flavor.

Broccoli needs 1 square foot and cauliflower needs to be spaced 24-36 inches apart. They can be inter-planted with a variety of other crops including onions, celery, dahlias, calendula, leeks, cilantro, parsley, nastruiums to name a few.

Cheddar Cauliflower, a beautiful orange


Cauliflower is more temperamental than broccoli.  It is finicky about the temperature and wants consistently cool weather and isn't fond of heat or extreme cold.  If temperatures fluctuate a lot or watering is not consistent it will form buttons which are small tiny heads instead of a nice head.

This is cauliflower inter-planted with celery and onions.

Preparing the Site:

Prepare you soil well for both crops.  Mix a well rotted compost and dry organic fertilizer in the soil when you prepare your beds.  I mix my own dry fertilizer of 1 part blood meal, 2 parts bone meal and 1/2 part greensand or azomite.

I seem to have better luck if cauliflower is planted were it gets some afternoon shade.

Start cauliflower and broccoli indoors around March 1st.  Plant the transplants out 2 - 4 weeks before the last frost date which for me is mid to late April.  To transplant dig the transplant hole a little bigger and add a handful of compost and small handful of dry organic fertilizer and mix it with the soil then transplant the cauliflower and broccoli. Add mulch around transplants.  You can fertilize with fish emulsion as the plants are being established.

Graffiti cauliflower


Consistent even moisture is key to developing good heads.  Don't water stress plants. Mulch generously around the plants.  

Monitor for aphids and cabbage loppers. 

A fall planting of broccoli with fall there are fewer pest issues and broccoli tastes improves with the cool weather

Fall Plantings:

For fall crops plant transplants out after temperatures are below 75 degrees and 4-6 weeks before first frost date. Start indoors around mid July. After transplanting both crops will appreciate a row cover or low tunnel to give protection from sun while they get established.

Cauliflower requires patience.  The heads start out small and loose and need a total of 75 - 80 days to form the dense larger heads.  As the head starts to form take the outer leaves and clothes pin them around the head.  This protects white cauliflower from the sun and is called blanching.  I grow a green, orange, and purple cauliflower that do not require blanching.


Harvest cauliflower when the heads are around 6-8 inches and compact and firm.  If the heads start to open and are small you have to harvest.  When the cauliflower starts to look coarse it is too mature to eat and can be feed to the chickens.  Once you harvest the head the plant can be removed from the garden and composted or feed to chickens or pigs.  Goats enjoy the leaves also.

You can freeze or pickle cauliflower.  There are wonderful ways to prepare fresh cauliflower including roasting, steaming, and then baking with sauces.  It is favorite in our family

Harvest the broccoli head when it is firm and dense.  Cut 4 inches of the stem with the head.  Leave the broccoli in the ground and you will continue to get many side shoots through out the season.  

Sprouting broccoli only produces small side shoots so be sure you are planting a variety that forms a head and allows you to enjoy the side shoots.  

Fresh broccoli is delicious nothing like store bought.  Every time my husband eats it he comments on how good the flavor is. The key is growing it in the right season.  It needs cool spring weather or fall weather.  Late plantings are prone to aphids and harvested in the heat of summer so get broccoli in the garden early. 

  Aphids and cabbage worms love both cauliflower and broccoli.  Monitor your plants for both these pests for early control.  Curling wilting leaves are a sign of aphids and chewed holes are a sign of cabbage worms.

How to Get Rid of Aphids

  • For a mild infestation try spraying cold water on the leaves, sometimes all aphids need is a blast of water to dislodge them.
  • If temperatures are not too high, spray with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
  • You can often get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves of the plant with a mild solution of water and a few drops o f Ivory dish soap.
  • Stir together 1 quart of water, 1 tsp of liquid dish soap and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not dilute before spraying on plants. Be careful using in high temperatures and test on the leaves before spraying the whole plant it can destroy the cuticle of the leaf.
  • Remove badly infected leaves
  • Use a Neem oil for aphids and Spinosad for caterpillars.
  • For more info click on these links.


      Favorite broccoli varieties:  
      Waltham, Premium Crop  
      Favorite Cauliflower Varieties:
       Amazing, Green Harmony, Cheddar, Graffiti 

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