Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cauliflower, a Long Time Coming

(L-R) Broccoli, Romanesco, and Cauliflower

This week we had a beautiful harvest of cauliflower, broccoli and romanesco! Although most people think of cauliflower as a fairly common veggie, as opposed to something like fancy heirloom tomatoes, cauliflower actually is quite difficult to grow. Once tomatoes are established, they give many pounds of fruit continually for about 3 months. Cauliflower takes just as long to grow (We seeded today’s cauliflower back in July!), and each plant makes only one head. Although the leaves are also edible, most people don’t eat them, so it’s a 1-harvest crop. Cauliflower is a cool-weather crop, and we only grow it in the fall now because we’ve found that spring cauliflower tends get aphids and cabbage loopers, and it bolts (goes to flower) as soon as we get a hot day. The cauliflower we're harvesting now was covered with shade cloth back when the weather was hot and later with another type of row cover to keep it warm and keep the bugs off. Now that we’re getting cold nights, we’ve also lost some of the heads to frost damage. These are a few of the reasons why our fall CSA tends to feature much more leafy greens, like kale, which grows in only 2 months and can be harvested continuously for many months. 
A mature plant is about 3 ft. tall with huge leaves.

I just want folks to have some idea of what it takes to grow a vegetable that most Americans think of as relatively inexpensive and common. How does organic cauliflower arrive at the grocery store year-round for about $3/head? I really don’t know. Surely, it's due in part to economy of scale, i.e. larger farms can grow big fields of cauliflower and mechanize the process. I also think it has a lot to do with importing from other regions and countries when it's out of season here, underpaid farm labor, and maybe climate-controlled greenhouses.

If you have tips for growing cauliflower efficiently, let us know. We're still learning!

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