Choosing the right type of cauliflower for your garden means you'll get the taste and color you want with varieties that work best for your climate. Although cauliflower is technically a perennial, it grows as an annual. Depending on the variety, it may take up to four months from transplant to harvest, although some hybrids mature faster.
A member of the cabbage family, cauliflower came to France via Italy in the 16th century and is believed to have originated in Turkey.
Most varieties of cauliflowers grow best in cooler temperatures and thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Plant cauliflower seedlings in an area of your garden that receives at least six hours of full sunlight each day. Use a soil that's rich in organic matter and add compost for extra nutrition. Space seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart, leaving about 30 inches between rows.
To protect the heads of white varieties and prevent them from turning green, it's important to tie the leaves around them, a process that's called blanching. Some varieties are self-blanching as the leaves wrap around the heads by themselves.
The cauliflower head is ready to harvest when its stunted flowers have formed into a dense, meaty "curd." Curds are white in classic cauliflower varieties. but can also be green, purple or orange.
The Snowball Cauliflower
Originating in France, 'Snowball' is a snow-white heirloom variety that was introduced to North America in 1888. It features a 6-inch head with tightly wound curds and can be planted just before the last frost. It takes approximately 68 days to mature. The self-blanching snowball requires slightly acidic soil and full sun.
There are several hybrid cauliflower types which were introduced to take advantage of short growing seasons. Planted later in the season, these hybrids mature as early as 50 days after planting.
The "Snow King" is a heat tolerant cultivar that matures in 58 days and produces a head that is 7 to 8 inches in diameter. The "Snow Crow" is another fast grower, reaching maturity 55 days after planting and growing to 7 or 8 inches in diameter. This variety is also mildew resistant and keeps its flavor even if not harvested right away. The "White Corona" variety has relatively small heads of only 3 to 4 inches, but it's one of the fastest growers of them all, maturing in only 30 days.
Colorful Varieties of Cauliflowers
Not all cauliflowers have white curds, and those without usually take longer to mature. These colorful varieties of cauliflower don't need blanching. Because they take longer to mature, they're often dense and have complex flavors.
The "Alverda," commonly known as "broccoflower," takes between 80 and 100 days to reach maturity. Similar to the Alverda cauliflower is the Romanesco, which is well known for its geometric florets. Other greenish "broccoflower" include the Green Goddess, Chartreuse, and Vitaverd hybrids.
The "Violet Queen" is a warm-weather variety that grows best in USDA zones 7 through 11. Taking 65 to 70 days to mature, with vivid purple florets, this variety is high in beta-carotene and flavorful enough to eat raw.
The "Cheddar" takes its name from its cheesy orange color and was originally discovered in cauliflower patch in Canada. It takes only about 58 days to mature.
Cauliflower is growing in popularity because of its versatility as a rice or potato substitute in low carbohydrate diets.