July 12, 1999
Many people think cauliflower is a difficult vegetable to grow. It isn't very vigorous, doesn't adapt well to heavy clay soil, cannot tolerate water stress, and is subject to a few pests that are at epidemic levels most years here on the rainy side of the Cascades. If you're one of these folks, I'd like to introduce you to overwintered cauliflower, and especially to the Walcherin varieties. There is a lot to recommend these plants!
For those of you are not familiar with this type of crop, I'll give you a brief rundown. Overwintered cauliflower is probably the easiest type to grow. The Walcherin varieties were developed by Dutch plant breeders for their farmers, who deal with a winter climate much like ours. The seed is sown in the summer. The plants grow through the late summer and fall, sit through the coldest part of winter, then start growing again in the late winter. They produce large tasty white heads from March through May, depending on the variety being grown.
Seed is sown in the first half of July. I usually directly sow them in the garden, but this does fall in that short period when warm, dry weather is the norm. You may find it easier to start them in pots a week or two earlier so you can better control the moisture level. Before planting them in the garden, work about ½ cup of complete organic fertilizer into the soil for each plant.
For the first part of their lives you have to think about the two pests that plague all Brassicas up here: The cabbage maggot fly and the cabbage worm butterfly. As with the other members of the cabbage family, the easiest way to control these pests is by growing the plants under a floating row cover. This keeps them from laying their eggs on or around the plants. Usually by mid-September these pests are not very prevalent, and the row cover can be removed. With that, you're probably done caring for them until February!
These varieties are very cold hardy, and have survived temperatures of 8ºF in my garden. They also hold up to winter rain quite well. The one thing that can do them in is an extended period of waterlogged soil. Raised beds will usually prevent this, but winters that feature record-breaking rainfall (such as 1998-99) may be too much for them. Also you may have to take measures to control slugs, since they'll sometimes eat the leaves.
In February we start warming up, although it may be hard to tell! Like many plants that live through the winter, these cauliflowers will start to grow again around the middle of this month. This is a good time to weed the bed and, while you're at it, work a couple tablespoons of blood meal into the soil around each plant. Repeat this about every three weeks from mid-February until the plants begin to form curds (which is what cauliflower heads are called). Then it's time to eat! These delicious cauliflowers are doubly welcome because they fill a harvest window when not much else is ready.
Territorial Seed Company is the only company I know of that sells seed for these varieties. You can buy individual types, which will let you control when you will be able to harvest. I like to buy their "Armado Spring Plus blend", which contains all the different varieties in one packet.
All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated November 18, 2013