It is difficult to avoid gluts in the veg garden and after a few months when the garden has not been very productive, suddenly there is quite a choice of veg. Some are later than I would like and it will be a few weeks before I have courgettes or tomatoes but I have been picking New Zealand spinach for a while, the broad beans are now ready, there are carrots, radish, lettuce and beetroot. The calabrese has been producing for a couple of weeks, the first cabbages are ready and this week the first caulies have been picked. Surprisingly the coloured caulies have beat the white; I say surprising because they were sown on the same day (in late March) and planted out together and the white is the F1 ‘Sapporo’. The central leaves are starting to twist though so they won’t be long.
I must admit that I grow a lot more calabrese than cauliflowers.
There are several reasons for this:
1 Calabrese matures more quickly and is more compact so you can fit more in a given space.
2 Calabrese produces small, sideshoots a few weeks after the main head is cut to give a second, later crop.
3 Calabrese is more nutritious than cauliflowers.
4 Because cauliflowers (in theory) can have large heads there can be waste in the kitchen.
5 Cauliflower curds can discolour if exposed to sun and are less easy to grow than calabrese.
Because they are white, cauliflowers do not have as many phytonutrients as other veg; they have no betacarotenes – found in green veg and carrots – nor the anthocyanins of purple veg like purple sprouting broccoli. So I thought I would give coloured caulis a try this year. All the cabbage, caulies and calabese were planted in rows 45cm apart with 45cm between caulies and cabbages and 30cm apart for the calabrese which is about as close as you can plant them. Now the ground is covered with foliage. I start the plants in cell trays after germinating them in pots. It is worth buying F1 hybrids because they are easier to grow but sow a few at a time and try not to raise more than 12 every fortnight because F1 hybrids are very uniform and they will all mature at a similar time and although you can freeze caulies you don’t really want to do that with all of them or you may as well buy frozen veg! While cabbages will tolerate being left in their pots or cell trays for longer than ideal you should try to treat cauliflowers well or they will make tiny curds on small plants. They prefer full sun and a rich, heavy soil that is not acid. These were grown in a new bed that has only just been cleared of old shrubs and weeds in the winter and was heavily mulched with mushroom compost, dug in in spring, and dressed with some lime. The lime was added not just because these crops prefer some lime but because some other areas in the garden have some clubroot in the soil. The young plants were watered three times in the week after planting but have not been irrigated apart from that. They would have needed watering if they were in one of the raised beds but because this border faces east so only gets sun until about 4pm at this time of year (less earlier and later in the year) and is heavy clay, they have not needed extra water.
So far, the caulies in the ‘Kaleidoscope Mixed’ from Plants of Distinction have produced large, orange curds, smaller green curds and no purple ones – though one plant produced a small head on a small plant. The green curds look rather like the late summer ‘Romanesco’ but without the unique, pointed shapes. What is interesting is that the orange and green heads are coloured right through to the centres. They must have more nutrients and certainly look attractive. I am glad that the orange curds are deeply coloured and do not just look like white cauliflowers that have been exposed to sun and have gone yellow.
The orange cauliflower in the mix may be the variety called ‘Cheddar’ and the green may be ‘Emeraude’, both of which gained RHS AGMs in the RHS trial in 2005 but neither seems to be available as single varieties in the UK at present. The varieties may not be these because veg varieties are constantly being updated.