Cauliflower, locally known as phool gobi, is one of the cruciferous vegetables. Belonging to the Brassicaceae family, this white coloured, flower vegetable is scientifically known as Brassica oleracea var. botrytis. The name cauliflower itself has roots in Latin, caulis referring to cabbage and floris pertaining to the word flower.
The white, usually edible, portion of cauliflower is known as curd. Although curd comes in a few other colours — including orange, purple and yellow, the flavour of this vegetable remains the same; a little on the sweeter side as compared to most other vegetables in the Brassica family.
Many also use the green stem for curries and soups. The curd is part of almost all continental food options. It can be baked, cooked, sautéed, fried, roasted, steamed and eaten even raw as snacks, or in soups and salads.
Generally, vegetables from the Brassica family are more heat tolerant compared to other winter season vegetables. This means the seeds of cauliflower can be sown as early as the end of the monsoon period. Gardeners from zone 9 and beyond, should opt for more heat tolerant varieties.
The phool gobi or cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Growing it requires patience but the results can be rewarding
For kitchen gardeners, seedlings can be grown by sowing a dozen or so seeds in a 4-by-4-inch-sized pot. The method is simple, fill 80 percent of the pot with potting mix or the gardening soil and sprinkle the seeds on the surface. Lightly cover it with a thin layer of any type of compost.
Depending upon the conditions, the seeds are likely to germinate within one to two weeks. After two to three true leaves sprout, the seedlings can then be dug and spooned out with help of a small spade, trowel or even a spoon, to be segregated in individual same-sized pots.
As the seedling grows into a sapling — which means it has five to six true leaves now — it should be shifted from this individual pot and transplanted into a bigger container, of at least 12-by-12-inch size, or into the ground occupying a space of a square foot.
Depending upon the variety and feed, the plant can spread from one to two feet and grow in height from one foot to even 30 inches. Being a sun-loving plant, it needs early morning sunlight till afternoon. The soil should be well-drained and moist throughout the day.
Moving forward from the sapling stage to the eventual harvest, the plant should be provided with a rich fertiliser. Early on, nitrogen-rich fertiliser is needed to augment the growth of a healthy plant. Decomposed cow manure, fish meal, blood meal or decomposed chicken manure can be given sparingly, twice a month.
Once the white portion or the curd begins to develop, replace the nitrogen fertiliser with potassium- and phosphorus-rich fertiliser, such as banana peel liquid and bone meal. Use these fertilisers every fortnight.
The cauliflower is frequently attacked by pests and diseases, including white flies, aphids, snails, snugs, flea beetles, moths, cabbage loopers and root maggots. As a prophylactic measure to avoid such pest attacks, the plant should always be sprayed with an organic pesticide, such as neem oil, after every 10 to 15 days. In case of attack, a few drops of any dishwashing soap should be mixed with the organic pesticide and sprayed on alternating days, till the pests are eradicated completely.
As the curd begins to mature, it changes its colour from white to yellow. The time to harvest would be when the curd just begins to show a tinge of yellow. The taste is also considered to be at its optimum best at that time, and the size of the curd also does not increase after that point. Since, the plant does not produce any more curds after the harvest, the green parts can now be discarded or used as compost or feed for poultry.
Always remember, any severe changes in fertiliser quantity, temperature, pest attack or watering during the curd growth and development process can lead to poor growth. There are high chances of premature fruiting, with smaller-sized curd, which may divide into even smaller, separated curds in one — a phenomenon known as buttoning.
For a new gardener, this may be a very disheartening outcome, especially considering that it takes about three to five months for the entire process, from seeds to harvest. This is part and parcel of the gardening hobby and one should not lose hope. It is advised, however, to sow a few more seeds to account for buttoning or any other mishap in advance.
Please send your queries and emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. The writer is a physician and a host for the YouTube channel ‘DocTree Gardening’ promoting organic kitchen gardening
Published in Dawn, EOS, October 23rd, 2022