(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 6 of the Wednesday, June 13, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING CAULIFLOWER
Cauliflower is from the brassica family and all brassicas do really well here in Southeast Alaska. To prep your bed for cauliflower it should be amended with a fair amount of nitrogen as cauliflower is a heavy feeder. I like to prep my bed the previous fall with seaweed, seashell sand and salmon carcasses that are spaced about a foot apart. The next spring I start the seeds indoors around March 15.
All of the varieties I tried did well here, and the funny thing was that most of them matured at about the same time regardless of how many days the packets said were necessary. The only plants that matured later where the ones that were accidentally planted in partial shade. I think it might be a good idea to grow some in the sun and some in the shade on purpose to spread the harvest season out a bit.
I transplant the starts on April 15 while the starts are young and vigorous. If brassica starts get too old they will be stunted and not worth planting. The roots reach the boundaries of the 4-inch pot and the plant decides that its all the space it’s going to get so it stops growing.
When I transplant cauliflower starts I make a dish shaped depression in the soil and then dig a hole in the middle of it deep enough to bury the start up to its first true leaves. The depression acts as a catch basin for water to keep the starts from drying out. You would think that nothing would dry out with our weather, but a good raised bed that is properly amended with lots of sand can dry out in just one day of nice weather. I find it is also helpful to mulch the bed with a 4-inch layer of seaweed to ensure steady, adequate moisture. Just be sure the seaweed does not touch the plants so there is no chance of it rotting the tender starts.
Cauliflower needs to have lots of room to grow big beautiful heads so I like to space them at least 18 inches to 2 feet apart. When the starts are small it is tempting to crowd them close together to get more plants in the bed, but it is never worth it. If cauliflower plants are too close together they will produce little tiny heads, so try to imagine full-sized plants when you set them out. I cover all my brassica beds with floating row cover and leave it on until July 15 to warm up the beds and protect the plants from the root maggot fly.
Many books will tell you that as cauliflower heads develop you need to “bleach” or “blanch” the heads by tying some leaves together over the top to protect them from the sun. This does not seem to be necessary here in Sitka. In fact, the year I tried it the slugs seemed very happy to have this great hiding area and ate my plants up. Sometimes the heads do turn slightly purple from the sun but it has no effect on their flavor.
It’s hard to know when to harvest cauliflower because it looks so beautiful and the heads just keep getting bigger and bigger, but if it goes past its prime the flowerets start to separate. This is called “ricing.” Ricing does not affect the flavor either, but for best results try to harvest cauliflower right before this happens. Once cauliflower is harvested the plant is finished and will not produce any more.
It’s a good idea to start some more seeds in June so that at harvest time you can pull the old plant, amend the spot with some compost and then pop a new start in for a second harvest later in the fall.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241