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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019
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For the love of cauliflower: A difficult veg to grow but it's worth it

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with cauliflower, a good alternative for rice and pizzas.

Michael Kelly Grower

CAULIFLOWER IS A difficult vegetable to grow, takes up a good deal of space and doesn’t store particularly well – so when it comes to deciding whether it’s worth growing you really have to consider how much you like to eat it.

But home-grown cauliflower is definitely tastier than the mass-produced alternative.

Sowing

A foolproof way to grow healthy cauliflower seedlings is to sow them in module seed trays – sow one or two seeds in each module 1.5cm deep. Thin out the weaker seedling.

The seeds will germinate in about a week and will be ready for planting about three weeks later (when 5cm tall). Make sure to harden off early sowings carefully.

For a steady supply of cauliflower, sow a few plants in March, May and June (you might still get away with it now).

Spacing will determine the size of the curds – between 60-70cm is about right. The more space you can give them, the healthier the plants will be.

As with cabbages, cauliflowers should be planted into firm, fertile, free-draining ground – the root and stem will eventually have to support a very heavy head!

Water plants well before sowing. Create a hole with a dibber, pop the seedling in and then firm in very well. Include cauliflower in your brassica rotation – do not plant them where there have been brassicas for at least 3-4 years previously.

Growing

Keep plants free of weeds and water regularly – if they dry out, they are inclined to bolt. Late sowings can be given a feed of an organic liquid feed to encourage growth.

You can protect curds from sun and frost damage by folding some of the surrounding leaves over the curd and tying with a rubber band or some twine.

Harvesting

Harvest while curds are white, packed firm and tight. Remove the plant from the soil and cut the head from the stem. Wash carefully (slugs can make their home in the base of the curds).

Recommended Varieties

Andes F1, Igloo F1.

Problems

Cabbage Root Fly maggots eat the roots causing the plant to stop growing. Prevention is better than cure – 15cm wide ‘collars’ made from felt or carpet placed around the stem at soil level, can prevent the adult fly from laying its eggs.

The other major pests are the butterfly (large and small white) and moths which lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. The resulting caterpillars will munch their way through your crop in no time.

You can remove the caterpillars as they appear, but again the best option is prevention. Cover your crop with appropriate netting to stop the butterfly laying its eggs on the leaves.

A more serious (though less prevalent) problem is clubroot, a fungus which can stay in the soil for up to 20 years. Acidic soils can cause ‘tip-burn’ which discolours the curds.

GIY Tips

If you are space constrained, you can sow cauliflowers as close together as 15cm – you will get lots of mini curds about 7cm in diameter.

Cauliflowers will freeze quite well, so this is a legitimate method of ‘storage’ if you have a good crop that you can’t eat all at once.

Recipe of the Week – Pizza made from Cauliflower

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If the trend for using blitzed cauliflowers as an alternative to rice (for curries) and wheat (for pizzas) seems a little contrived, then try this recipe from Josephine Malene Kofod (atastylovestory.com).

The challenge with using veg to make a pizza dough is to create something crispy that can be eaten by hand, without it falling apart. Many recipes use lots of eggs, but this one opts for cauliflower and goat’s cream cheese. It will work well with a slightly different, less cheesy topping.

The recipe makes four small pizzas or one large one.

Ingredients:

For the crusts

  • 1 medium-size cauliflower grated 
  • 100g goat’s cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and black pepper

For the tomato sauce

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • A handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • A pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

To make the crust, add the cauliflower to a pot of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, then wrap in a tea-towel and squeeze out any excess water. In a bowl, mix the grated cauliflower with the cream cheese and egg, and season.

Divide the cauliflower mix into four portions and, using your hands, shape the crusts on the sheet. They should be about 1-1½cm thick. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until firm and golden.

While the crusts are baking, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic and stir briefly, then add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

When the crusts are done, add a spoonful of tomato sauce to each and spread evenly. Add toppings as desired, plus grated cheese.

Bake the pizzas for about 10 minutes at 220C/450F/gas mark 8, until the cheese is golden.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Eat stalks and leaves: Fennel is the veg that keeps on giving

Read: Squeeze some squash into your life

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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