I am growing cauliflower for the first time this season. Someone recommended that I tie the leaves together to help the heads develop. Is this correct, and if so, why and what is the proper way to do this?
Cauliflower is a cool season vegetable. It is a crop that is exacting in both its soil and climatic requirements, and should have uninterrupted growth. Any delay in growth will encourage the plants to prematurely form a small head that is of no value. In order to avoid this, the soil should be high in organic matter so that it will hold a lot of moisture. Cauliflower demands a fertile, sweet soil so be sure the pH is about 6.5.
Sow the seed 6 weeks before the plants are to be set in the garden. Cauliflower plants should be about 6 weeks old when set out, and you can figure 3 to 4 plants per person per year. These plants are grown the same way as cabbage. Set the plants 18 inches apart in the row and have the rows 30 inches apart. In the spring, set out the plants about 10 days after it is safe to set the earliest cabbage. Water the plants when transplanted to prevent wilting. Severe shock to plants at transplanting time often causes poor head development. Watering the plants with a starter solution, such as compost tea, is helpful. For best development cauliflower must have a large amount of available nitrogen. This is best supplied by making at least three side-dressings with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Make the application on top of the ground, 3 inches out from the plant. A circle around each plant is a good method if only a few plants are grown in the home garden. Cultivate only to control weeds and then be sure that the cultivation is very shallow.
In order to be good, cauliflower must be kept snowy white. Do this by tying the leaves together over the heads in order to blanch them. This tying should be done when the heads are slightly smaller than a doorknob. Tie the leaves that grow around the head so that they fully cover it, and prevent sunlight from reaching the head. Be sure to do this before any sunlight gets to the heads. They should be examined from time to time to see when they are ready to cut. If they are let go too long, the heads get loose and lose much of their tenderness. It will usually be about one week from the time they are tied until they are ready to use. There are cauliflower varieties that are said to be self-blanching, but tying is still recommended.