This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
This desirable vegetable does not attain to great perfection while the weather is dry and hot; cool, moist climates being most favorable to its growth. Very good crops may be obtained by sowing seed in May, and planting out the young plants in July or August. If the autumn is favorable, good heads will be formed before frost, and even those that show no indication of heading, may be lifted and protected in a cool cellar, where they will mature. To grow them well, the soil must be deep and rich. Crops for early spring use are raised in frames; these are planted during the present month. The bed is prepared by filling in a depth of two feet of good soil, and, if the bottom is covered with rough stones for drainage, they will be easier kept during winter. The plants are placed about eighteen, inches apart, and the vacant spaces may be set with lettuce. The future management consists in preserving from severe frosts by sufficient covering; straw mats are most convenient - a covering of loose straw or hay most efficient. Air must be freely admitted in the absence of frost, and the soil should be kept rather dry during winter. It is not desirable to encourage growth before the end of February; afterwards, the quicker they are grown the better.
Frequent stirring of the surface soil, and occasional applications of manure water, will promote growth; abundance of air is required at all favorable times, in order to keep the plants strong and dwarf. Clayey or strong, loamy soils, will be benefited by being thrown up in ridges, to be acted upon by the weather; the more exposed the surface, the more friable will the soil be left for spring operations.
We do not always find that this delicately flavored esculent is either grown or cooked in the best manner; a few remarks may, therefore, be useful respecting it.
The Cauliflower is generally considered to be only one of the many forms of the diversified cabbage, the primitive type of which is a small, open-leaved, cruciferous, yellow-flowered plant, found growing wild upon the cliffs near the seashores of Britain, and known to botanists as Brassica oleracea. There is, perhaps, no genus of plants which presents more singular peculiarities than this; for, while the different varieties can be, and are continually, kept true to sort from seed, the whole will most readily fertilize while in blossom with each other; and it is further necessary that only the most correct samples should be allowed to produce flower, if the best quality be required in the after progeny. Owing to our excess of heat during the summer, the seeds are generally defective, and, in most cases, entirely abortive, and we have to depend upon the milder climates of Europe for a supply. This being the case, small growers are entirely at the mercy of the seedsman; and as, to say the least of it, some seed-growers are not over particular, it behooves those who import to be careful from whom they purchase.
The seed lists contain a number of varieties of Cauliflower proper, but, if all be obtained, the difference, if any, that will be found, is only a deviation of quality; so that, if we get the best in this respect, we shall have fine heads with good culture.
The Cauliflower cannot be. grown to perfection under the shade of trees, near a building, or close to a fence. An open, clear spot should always be chosen; it delights in a rich, well-worked, and porous soil Fresh land, well manured, is to be preferred, and burnt turf sods, or vegetable refuse, in addition to barnyard manure, is of much service, and if, besides this, a liberal supply of liquid drain-ings from the dunghill be given while growing freely, the plant will be enabled to bring out its greatest excellence. An ordinary sample may be got with slight manuring, but, like all other garden products, the best practice is here found to be most economical.
In some parts of Europe, cauliflowers may be had all the year round, but, during the hottest part of our summers, if the same were to be attempted, we should only get a production of leaves, and little or no heads; we may, however, have them, with a short intermission, from the beginning of October to the middle of July, and how to accomplish this will be seen below. The times of sowing are given for latitude 41°, south of which it will be somewhat later, and north a trifle earlier, according to distance.
This much-esteemed vegetable is considered by many rather difficult to obtain, and also some what expensive, but, with a little judgment and forethought, Cauliflowers can be successfully grown, and with but a trifling expense. Where Cauliflowers are needed early in the spring, there must be the conveniences for growing them; that is, frames with two sashes, 9 or 12 feet long and 5 or 6 feet wide. You can have three successive crops in the spring, by growing the third in the open ground, trenched or spaded deep, not sparing the manure; for, remember, you can not manure too heavily for Cauliflowers. The seed for these crops must be sown in September, in the open ground, and the plants transplanted into a frame for the winter. Sow the seed thin, for short stout plants are much preferred, and plant them two or three inches apart each way; protect them from severe frosts, giving air always when the weather will permit; for, if kept too close, they will mildew and grow weak. In the month of February, prepare a hotbed for the first crop. There are two ways: one, by putting the manure into a hole or pit the size of the frame; the other, by building a heap on the level ground one foot or 18 inches larger than the frame, each way, so as to bank the manure up outside the frame.
Generally this method is adopted where there is plenty of fresh stable manure at command. In making a hotbed, it is not altogether throwing up a heap of manure and putting a frame on it, but it requires to be thoroughly shaken out and well packed. When the bed becomes heated, cover the manure inside of the frame with 6 or 8 inches of turfy loam, allowing the first 6 or 8 days of burning heat to escape. By this time the bed will be sufficiently cooled down to receive the plants. Plant 6 or 8 in each light, at equal distances, giving air day and night at the top of the frame, for the first few days after, moderating it according to the weather. You can also obtain a crop of Lettuce or Radishes between the Cauliflowers, for they will be fit for use before the Cauliflowers are large enough to occupy the whole frame. After the small crop is taken out, fill in between the Cauliflowers with short manure, say 2 or 3 inches, and raise the frame by putting bricks or blocks of wood under each corner. They will now require plenty of water and to be closed early in the afternoon. When they commence to show flower, crack two or three leaves down over them, to keep the sun from them.
I will describe the method I adopt to produce a second crop of spring Cauliflower. The most part of this is done in the fall; when preparing the frames for winter use, I choose a three- or four-light frame, and fill to within six inches of the glass with good rotten manure, and a covering of good soil; plant that full of Lettuce, which can be cut during the winter. About the middle of March, the Lettuce will be all gone; fork the bed over lightly, and plant out the Cauliflowers. You can also have another crop of Lettuce between them. When they get up to the glass, raise the frame, and fill in with short manure. Generally speaking, this crop does well, and produces fine flowers.