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Growing cauliflower from starts gives best chance of success

Cauliflower is more easily raised from starts, such as this one, than from seeds.
Cauliflower is more easily raised from starts, such as this one, than from seeds. jwalker@fresnobee.com

QUESTION: I started my first vegetable garden last year and all the greens did well. This year, I want to grow cauliflower, one of our favorites. I hope it can be as successful as my first attempts at growing kale. Can you steer me a bit? Thanks.

ANSWER: Congratulations on your first success and glad it gave you motivation to try new things. Kale was a superstar for a number of years. Kale salads, kale soups, kale smoothies, kale chips – there seemed to be no end to it. But as last year’s craze is inevitably surpassed by a newcomer, so is cauliflower becoming the new kale.

And rightly so. It’s low in fat and carbs, high in fiber, folic acid and vitamin C. In addition, it is chock full of antioxidants.

Cooks love cauliflower. It’s a versatile vegetable that can be boiled, broiled, roasted and mashed. And though in past years all cauliflower was white, breeders and their work have given us colorful alternatives: It now comes in orange, green and purple. Though commercial growers start it from seed, home growers do best to buy starts, which are widely available wherever plants are sold. In Bellingham, Joe’s Gardens is a good bet, and its plants are sold in many grocery and big-box stores.

Plant cauliflower starts at least a foot apart, as a successful plant will be large. Make sure your soil is fertile: Add a balanced fertilizer at planting. If you want a lily white cauliflower, you will need to take the extra step of covering it to keep it white. Bring the plant leaves over the head of cauliflower. That will keep it white. If you’ve ventured into the new colored cauliflowers, you won’t need to take this step.

One good thing about cauliflower is that it keeps for a long time in the ground before it goes to seed. But make sure to eat it before it bolts, or prepares to reproduce itself.

There are two ways I love to prepare cauliflower. One is to cut the head into equal-sized florets, then drizzle with a good olive oil, salt and pepper. No other ingredients are needed. Mix to coat everything with the oil, then pop it into a hot oven – 375 degrees – and remove when the florets are cooked through. Stir a couple of times so they brown all over.

The other way that’s fun to use cauliflower is as a substitute for carb-heavy potatoes. Begin by mashing boiled cauliflower until it’s smooth. Then add it to mashed potatoes, thus reducing the carb load.

You can even replace some of the flour in pizza dough with mashed cauliflower.

If you have kids who like their food white, cauliflower is for them. Assuming, of course, that you provide ranch dressing for dipping!

QUESTION: I can’t believe that I have peach leaf curl again on my young peach tree. I sprayed at the end of winter and hoped to avoid the problem. Do you know what might be the problem?

ANSWER: Peach leaf curl is a problem whenever there is a particularly wet spring. It’s a fungus and appears just as the leaves are developing.

Though it might not harm your tree long term, it will definitely diminish, if not eliminate, any harvest. After several years of the problem, you are likely to see stunted tree growth.

Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to control it this time of year, and not even removing affected leaves will help. So next winter, just before leaf break, spray as directed. You’ll have to do it a few times, and make sure you cover all leaves on all sides.

If you continue to have problems, and choose to replace the tree, be sure to get a variety resistant to peach leaf curl.

And a last suggestion: Because rain splashes the fungus spores onto the tree each year to reinfect it, one trick may be to cover the area under and around the tree with plastic, held down with stones.

I wish I had better news for you, as I also struggle to keep peach leaf curl off my nectarine trees. Some years are better than others. Good luck.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you’d like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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