This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
(Brassica oleracea, Linn., variety botrytis, DC). A form of the common cabbage species, producing an edible head of malformed and condensed flowers and flower-stems (the word cauliflower means stem-flower); it will hybridize with the cabbage and form some very interesting freaks. See Forcing.
A perfect "curd" or head of cauliflower is one in which the parts are so adjusted to one another that it looks almost homogeneous. This condition is most often found in the young or partly developed heads. As soon as segmentation begins to take place, the curd has reached full development and maturity from the market-gardeners' standpoint. The breaking-up of the curd is an indication of the formation of floral parts. The value of the curd depends upon its symmetry and form; and the length of time that it will hold without beginning to break up into distinct parts.
Not all plants produce perfect curds. Growers recognize a peculiar form which is known as the "ricy" curd illustrated at a in Fig. 845. - Another form, which is equally undesirable is a segmented curd between the segments of which leaves appear, known as a "leafy" curd shown at b. A head in perfect condition is shown at c. Segments are apparent in c, but the development of the curd is almost ideal and the head as a whole is very nearly perfect. It is the aim of the seed-grower as well as of the gardener to produce plants which will return curds of the type shown at c.
Cauliflower is the most fastidious and exacting member of the cabbage family. It is less tolerant of adverse soil and climatic conditions than any of its near relatives. This accounts, in a great measure, for its limited cultivation and the fact that it is grown only in certain localities. When well grown, however, it is one of the most profitable market-garden crops. Because of its intolerance to heat, it is grown in the open so as to take advantage of the cool seasons of early spring and autumn. It is one of those crops, therefore, which is less adaptable than those having a greater range of heat-endurance. If the season happens to be favorable the amateur may have good luck, but if the season proves severe the most expert grower may fail.
A rich loamy soil, thoroughly charged with available plant-food is suited to this plant. Light thin sandy soils or those extremely heavy and retentive rule, not well suited for this crop. The soil should be one which does not dry out quickly but which will furnish the plants a constant supply of moisture. High-grade cauliflower is quite as dependent upon careful handling of the plants and a constantly available supply of moisture as high-grade celery. Among the fertilizers, none is better than well-decomposed manure from the horse-stable, thoroughly incorporated with the soil at the time of preparing it for the crop.
If commercial fertilizers are necessary, quick-acting ones are most desirable, except it is thought that sulfate of potash is preferable to muriate. The nitrogen-content of the fertilizer, however, should be in the form of nitrate of soda or sulfate of ammonia rather than in a slow-acting form. If a fertilizer is to be used, a portion of it should be scattered over the field before the plants are set. An application of 500 pounds to the acre at this time, applied broadcast, and a side dressing about the time "buttons" begin to form, will prove an advantage. The side dressing may be at the rate of 500 pounds, making a total application of 1,000 pounds to the acre. A good fertilizer is one carrying 3 to 4 per cent of nitrogen, 6 to 8 per cent of phosphoric acid and about 10 per cent of potash.
Cauliflower plants in northern latitudes are handled so as to prepare them either for an early or a late crop. The early crop should be started at the same time as early cabbage, or a few days later. Cauliflower plants cannot, however, be started in the autumn and successfully wintered in coldframes, as can early cabbage plants. Plants so handled are less likely to give a desira-le product. The best early-crop plants are produced from hotbed or greenhouse propagated stock started in a mild temperature and grown so as to produce a sturdy broad-leaved plant to be set in the field a few days later than the early crop of cabbage. Young cauliflower plants are less hardy than young cabbage plants and, for this reason, planting in the open must be somewhat delayed.
Fig. 845. Types of cauliflower heads: a, ricy; b, leafy; c, perfect.
For the late cauliflower crop in the North, seed-beds are prepared on the shady side of a building or in a partially shaded situation and handled in same manner as seed-beds for late cabbage, the late crop in the Long Island region being placed in the open the last days of June or early in July.
The early crop is usually grown on a smaller scale than the autumn crop. Plants grown in the hotbed are usually transplanted and the transplanted plants carried and set in the field by hand. The distance between the rows should be sufficient to permit of cultivation with horse-power implements, but the plants need not be set more than 18 inches apart in the row.
The late crop, however, is frequently transplanted during the drier parts of the season and, largely on this account, growers prefer to use a transplanting machine so as to water the plants at the same time they are set. A convenient distance between the rows is 3 feet, with the plants 20 to 24 inches apart in the row, depending upon the variety grown.
The old adage that "cabbage should be hoed every day" applies with equal force to cauliflower. Cultivation should be of such character as to prevent the formation of a crust and to discourage the development of weeds. The maintenance of a soil-mulch by shallow cultivation which shall not disturb or severely prune the roots of the plants is desirable.
Cauliflower is subject to the same enemies and diseases as cabbage. Clubroot and mildew are two of the most annoying diseases. The aphis, root-maggot and both the green cabbage-worm and the cabbage-looper are annoying pests. The delicacy of the curd requires that the plants be kept perfectly free from insects which devour any portion of the plant.
Cauliflower requires more careful field attention than . that required by any other garden crop except those that are blanched either by tying or banking. The young curd of the cauliflower, as soon as it has reached the size of a hen's egg, should be carefully protected from the elements by adjusting the leaves in such a manner as to prevent discoloration by the action of sun or rain. The expert growers accomplish this and at the same time indicate the stage of maturity of the plants by different methods of folding the leaves together over the curd or by tying them with different tying materials, a different method being used each time the field is gone over. To illustrate: the earliest developed curds may be protected by tying the leaves together with rye straw, the next later size may be indicated by folding the leaves together over the plant, while the third may be indicated by tying the leaves with raffia. Usually three operations will be sufficient to care for the entire season's crop.
As soon as the curds have reached the desired market size, which varies greatly with different producers and somewhat also with different varieties and is to a degree dependent upon the season and fertility of the land, the plants are harvested by cutting the heads with at least two or three whorls of leaves attached.
After the heads have been cut and a sufficient number assembled in one place to justify packing, they are trimmed by using a large knife to sever the leaves just above the edge of the curd so as to form a border or "ruche" of leafstalks with a part of the blade attached about the curd. This border of stiff green leafstalks about the white curd gives it a very attractive appearance.
After the curds have been properly trimmed, which varies somewhat with different operators, they are protected by the use of tea paper, either white or brown, placed over the head in such a manner as to protect it from dirt and contact with its neighbors. The curds are then packed in crates or barrels, the California and Florida product being largely packed in crates holding one dozen heads in a single layer. If the heads are to be packed in barrels, a layer of excelsior is first placed in the barrel and the wrapped heads, curd down, are carefully placed so as to form a layer resting upon the excelsior over the bottom of the barrel. The next row of curds is placed stem end down and curds up; on top is placed another cushion of excelsior and the operation repeated until the barrel is filled in such a manner as to leave the last row with the stem end upward, over which a cushion of excelsior and a burlap cover are placed. Ventilated barrels are ordinarily used for this purpose, but for long-distance shipment the smaller crates holding a single layer of heads have proved most advantageous.
During late years, the marketing of this crop has been very greatly facilitated and the returns to the growers considerably enhanced by a cooperative method of sale which has taken into consideration a more extended distribution of the crop than formerly. In this the Long Island Cauliflower-Growers' Association and the California Vegetable-Growers' Union have both been very helpful.
One of the handicaps in the cultivation of cauliflower has been the entire dependence of the American growers on foreign seed, little or no cauliflower seed having been produced in this country and that in the open only in the Puget Sound region. The seed has been expensive and not always to be depended upon. The greatest care should be given to securing a perfectly reliable stock of seed.