Showing posts with label cauliflower. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cauliflower. Show all posts

18 Jun 2012

Perennial Cauliflowers, my growing year

Almost a year ago I was intrigued to discover that Victoriana Nurseries in Kent offer plug plants of a perennial cauliflower that they call 'Cut and Come Again' and which are described as producing up to ten mini heads from each plant.  I imagined that these would be tiny 'designer' heads of cauliflower when I planted the plugs 90cm apart in my walled fruit border. The reality was slightly different, but the journey to maturity was fascinating.

It's a source of amusement to me that, rather as the fashion industry has to have 'this season's colour', now that veg growing is the trend du jour there are seasonal topics here also.  Last year it was edible flowers, with some supermarkets offering tiny salad bags of flowers at exorbitant prices. This year's buzz seems to be perennial veg, as mentioned in numerous books and magazines. Shortly after I planted the cauli plugs, I was invited to a little soirĂ©e of gardeners and garden writers and managed to silence the room when I mentioned that I was growing perennial cauliflowers.  Gracious, what a novelty! Perennial veg!  So, yes, just once I have managed to be on the forefront of something trendy although, of course, perennial veg is not new at all. Martin Crawford, Director of the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon and best known for creating his forest garden, has written a book on the subject which I'll review this week because it's worth knowing about.

I've also come across this vegetable in Alys Fowler's book 'The Edible Garden'. She describes it as an old-fashioned cottage garden vegetable and writes:
'Perennial broccoli is actually a cauliflower masquerading as broccoli. Each spring it produces a small, central cauliflower; cut this off and it sends the plant into production of many broccoli-like side shoots.'
The only known variety is called Perennial Nine-Star Broccoli (due to the number of side shoots) which is the type supplied to me by Victoriana Nurseries.

It's recommended to place the plants in a sheltered position although they proved to be extremely vigorous in the funnelling winds of the veg patch fruit borders. They needed staking as they grew to be over 4 ft tall and, if left to go over and flower at the end of the season, can reach over 5 feet and be an absolute bee magnet.  Mine were well over 3 ft in width, which somewhat surprised me as the planting distance is advised to be 90cm. To get round this, I kept whipping the very large lower leaves off - they were drooping and providing shelter for wintering slugs and snails anyway.  The plants will go on producing for five years so it makes sense in the fourth year to save the seed from one plant and then start at least one new plant each year for a continued supply.

These plugs were incredibly easy to grow, one small hole dug, a bit of mulching and a bit of staking - obviously the hard work had been done for me by the suppliers! However, having spaced them according to the enclosed instructions, I realise now that those recommendations are fine for a field or allotment but not when the plants are sharing the space with fruit trees. It all started to get a bit overcrowded by April but that's okay as I'll try and move a couple of them now that they've been cut back, all bar one (keeping the bees happy).

I was fascinated to see that the caulis all grew at different rates, planted north to south in the same soil.  The most southerly plant (in a 7 metre row) grew fastest, largest and produced a head before the others.  Some of the plants produced mostly florets, the largest produced just the one cauli head. I suspect the reason for this is the British weather - a warm winter followed by lots of sun, lots of rain... hardly the typical spring conditions needed by the plant.  The heads and florets came thick and fast once the plant started cropping (as did the grey woolly aphids).  I had plenty to offer friends and neighbours but would have preferred a longer cropping season because the secondary shoots were extremely delicious, whichever way they were cooked.

Victoriana sell the plug plants in sets of 5 which would satisfy a family of 4 (or more) cauli lovers for at least a month - more if the weather permits. (I had nearly two months of pickings.) You do need to watch out for woolly aphids, be prepared to squirt them with an organic spray and give the florets a good wash in water with a splash of white vinegar added to dislodge any bugs.  Strangely, the pigeons didn't seem to bother with the plants beyond the occasional peck at the leaves, perhaps because someone keeps chucking bread crusts for them. In another situation, I would net the plants for protection.

What I have enjoyed most is the sight of veg growing in the middle of winter, the availability of freshly picked stems in early spring and the ability to harvest just one or two stems if I fancy a few steamed cauli florets for a snack lunch. If, like me, you're partial to a bit of cauliflower, this is the plant I'd recommend growing - plant it once and, with an annual mulching of the soil, you're set up for spring veg without further ado.

If you're interested in growing perennial cauliflowers yourself, plugs can be bought from Victoriana Nurseries here.  I planted mine at the end of July, probably a tad late, but still reaped the rewards in the following spring.  The warm extended autumn last year no doubt contributed to the plants' excellent growth up to the cold snap in early 2012 and therefore a good subsequent harvest.

I photographed the plant's development throughout the year - who could resist photographing a monstrously huge plant in December when all else is dying off? I've chosen 12 photos which chart the progress and have squeezed them into 4 rows.  Apologies for the smallness of each frame but you'll get the general idea!

Cauliflower plugs planted 22 July 2011.
Photos from left: 8 inches high 6 weeks after planting; 15 inches high, 9 weeks after planting; right pic taken 2nd December, plant now about 2 ft tall.

Frozen caulis in early Feb 2012; shoots forming in the leaf bracts mid-March; statuesque plant by early April.

First 4" head beginning of April; sprouting shoots end of April; still edible but starting to 'go over' early May.

Cloud of bolted florets by early June, which had turned to flowers by mid-June. 3 week old stump resprouting.

20 Apr 2012

Sunshine, Rain and Perennial Cauliflowers

Perennial cauliflower
~ Perennial Cauliflower, looking good (and tasty) ~
I've heard so many people bemoaning the "dreadful weather" this last week: wind, rain, sunshine, as well as thunderstorms today. Welcome to April in the UK.  (I think it's great.)  There's a hosepipe ban in the south so all this rain is sending deep reserves of water into the ground and the veg and fruit will be fully refreshed.  Luckily I was able to find time to go down to the veg garden on Monday where I got quite a lot done.  I stayed really focused as I thought it might rain at any moment!

I earthed up my bag grown potatoes for the first time as they'd put on a good 4 inches of growth.  I sowed Italian parsley, coriander and 3 types of carrot seeds: purple cosmic (for fun), Amsterdam 3 (my usual) and a new one (to me) called Little Fingers as it's supposed to be harvestable (is that a word?) in only 8 weeks!  I'm growing these in deep tubs to see if it makes a difference; previously I've interplanted carrots between the onions and garlic which seems to have thwarted any carrot fly.  Let's see how the tubs do. (The theory is to grow a few at a time and re-sow at monthly-ish intervals so that I don't end up overwhelmed with carrots.  Or anything else for that matter.)

The pink broad beans are all doing really well - I sowed them in a raised bed that had been manured last autumn and I've left a space to plant beans or peas (not sure which yet) at the north-east end of the bed where they'll get plenty of sun without shading the broad beans. The sacrificial nasturtiums planted at the same time have yet to make a showing; I want them there to tempt any aphids or blackfly away from the broad beans... )

Meanwhile, back upstairs in my flat-turned-greenhouse, the artichokes, dill, borage and melon seeds have all germinated and been potted on successfully. They'll stay upstairs for a few weeks until they're strong enough to fend for themselves in the veg garden. I sowed a tray of 12 Jiffy 7s with bell peppers (purple and orange), capsicums and chillis and the seed saved from my Yellow Banana chilli grown last year (the one still fruiting at Christmas). I reckon the son of that plant deserves a space on the windowsill this year if I can successfully nurture it to maturity. I suspect it's not really called Yellow Banana but the plant came from Homebase when the fungus gnats munched my own chillis into oblivion and that was the name conferred on it there. The seeds went into the modules at the beginning of April and are over an inch high already.  I hope this bodes well for raising mature plants as I may have left sowing them a bit late.

The best part of the week is that I've enjoyed the first of my perennial cauliflowers! The main cauli head was quite large so I cut just a few chunky stalks.  It was cooked with the sprouting stalks from the bolted Brussel Sprouts plants and both were utterly delicious. (Served up with just butter, salt and pepper. Yum.) I wondered in my previous post whether the sprout stalks would be edible and now I know that they are. They were not unlike PSB so it's good know that the sprout tops and stalks can still be eaten even after the plant has bolted.  Lesson learned: don't be hasty in chucking your bolted winter veg onto the compost heap.  I can honestly say I enjoyed every mouthful of that particular lunch.

Tomorrow I'm off early for a long drive to Bristol.  Jekka McVicar's herb farm hosts occasional Open Days with talks by Jekka and farm tours around the herbs.  I'm booked onto the workshop "How to Design a Herb Garden" which I treated myself to for my birthday last month.  I'm really excited to be going, even though the weather forecast is not good, and I'll hopefully be able to post all about it when I get back.

Have a good weekend everyone!

13 Oct 2011

The Constant Cauliflower

Constant cauli
How long before the pigeons spot this beauty, I wonder?

I've taken my time in writing about the wondrous cauliflowers that I'm growing as I wanted them to get really established first.  Earlier in the year, Stephen Shirley, who I met through UK Veg Gardeners, offered me a selection of veg from his family's business, Victoriana Nurseries in Kent.  The Victoriana website has an extensive range of tempting fruit and veggies and, as a result, choosing - always difficult for me - took some time; I wanted to grow veg that would capture the imaginations of the children here.  Eventually I ordered Tozer brussels sprouts (a beautiful red variety, hopefully gracing this years christmas dinner), Strawberry Popcorn, Rambling Cascade strawberries and Cut and Come Again Cauliflowers.  My order went in very late in the season so we all wondered if the plants would perform well, especially in the case of the Strawberry Popcorn, and Stephen's wife Serena kindly threw in some green brussels sprouts for good measure.  

I'm pleased to say that nearly 3 months on, by following the planting instructions and preparing the soil well, the caulis and brussels are doing really well.  The strawberries are also looking good, with recent warm weather they'll have developed really strong root systems ready for next summer and then we'll see them really flourish! The sweetcorn didn't survive but it's a plant that I'll go back to next summer, if only for the novelty - who doesn't love freshly made popcorn?

But it's the caulis that are going to be the magical, mystery plant of the veg garden - even I hadn't appreciated the full uniqueness of this plant.  In late summer, I was invited to a little evening celebration at the home of Mark "Vertical Veg" Ridsdill-Smith who had discovered he lived around the corner from me. He was celebrating a good year for his business including featuring in Alex Mitchell's recently published book The Edible Balcony. Standing in the kitchen, eating some delicious home-made focaccia, I uttered the phrase "perennial cauliflower" and the room of foodies and gardeners fell into an awed silence. "Perennial Cauliflower? What? Is it true? Does it work? Why have I never heard of this before?" Ooh, I created quite a stir, I can tell you! You'd think I'd revealed how to spin straw into gold.

So, for those who missed the ensuing conversation, this is what I'm told will happen: Each plant will produce up to 10 mini cauliflower heads on a branching system not dissimilar to broccoli. At the end of the season, where other caulis would be cleared from the garden, perennial cauliflowers are just tidied up and left. Not even cut down to resprout; no, no - just left. Come next winter, off they go again producing another crop of mini cauliflowers and so on, and so on, for up to another 5 years. I'm a little bit excited by this plant, I can tell you, and looking forward to seeing the first round of produce. 

cauli with apple

I've planted mine inbetween the fruit trees in the walled border where the strawberries will ramble between them in the summer.  They won't be in the way there because that's the border that I have to, rather inconveniently, climb into when there's work to be done so it makes the perfect spot for plants that can fend (for the most part) for themselves.

Edited to add: I'll be adding more photos of the caulis as the heads develop over the winter season. I'm told that the plants produce mini-heads of cauliflower; I assume this will be a bit like the baby veg found in the supermarket. Sounds perfect to me, a plant that gives cauliflower in one portion sizes!

13 Mar 2011

The forgiveness of nature

This is what lures me back to the garden:  despite a lack of motivation/time to tend to the veg patch over the winter months, I recently discovered that I've nevertheless been rewarded by a small crop of extremely beautiful, small and tasty Romanesco cauliflowers.  The semi-neglected plants had persevered to produce perfect and stunning little fractal florets, very pleasing to the eye and extremely pleasing to the palate when steamed and served with a light and creamy cheese sauce*.  I felt almost mean cutting them down and eating them after so much effort (on their part) through cold winter months but, given the delicious flavour, will definitely be growing them again.  (Particularly as they practically grow themselves.)

A quick search online tells me that because they're part of the Brassica family, they're known in France as a cabbage (chou), in Germany as Pyramid Cauliflowers and in Italy as broccolo Romanesco (broccoli).  Thereby demonstrating the diversity of the species Brassica oleracea L.  Where would I be without Google?
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* I usually make my cheese sauce by adding a variety of cheeses to a basic Bechamel (white) sauce: a farmhouse cheddar, perhaps some Gruyere or Pecorino but this time I used cheddar with a little bit of Fortnum's Stilton which goes very nicely when teamed with cauliflower or broccoli.
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