Cauliflower has really exploded in popularity recently. Whether you want a traditional roasted cauliflower dish or a more experimental cauliflower rice recipe, there is no shortage of ideas for this nutritious vegetable.
Rather than having to spend big bucks at your grocery store, you can actually grow cauliflower plants in your own backyard. Read on to find out when to harvest it for optimal nutrition.
When to harvest cauliflower? Cauliflower is ready for harvest in the spring or fall, depending on the variety and when you plant it. It is a cold season plant, so it does not do well in hot climates.
One plant will produce one large head surrounded by large green leaves. While most varieties of cauliflower are white, some are actually orange or purple.
For traditional varieties, you want the head to be all-white. It should measure 6 to 8 inches in width and be firm and compact. Once ready, take a sharp knife and cut the stalk on the vertical. You can remove the leaves for your compost or cook them in a stir-fry.
After you harvest the main head, continue to care for the plant. As long as the weather doesn’t become too cold or too hot, the plant will continue to grow. While you won’t get another large head, you will get multiple smaller heads, called florets.
These are ready for harvest when they are 2 to 3 inches wide. Take your sharp knife and cut along the diagonal to harvest these florets.
How do you know when your cauliflower is ready to harvest?
First, it’s important to note that cauliflower is ready at vastly different times, depending on the variety. This can range from 50 up to 100 days after it is planted. When you decide on your variety, you will want to make note of what the original packaging says for harvest dates.
Cauliflower is a cool-season plant. This means it grows during the summer but is harvested in the fall.
For example, you should plant cauliflower in April or May and then harvest it in August or September. However, you can only do this if you do not have too hot summers or reach temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Furthermore, you can actually plant a second crop of cauliflower in the fall. For this planting season, aim to have cauliflower in the ground by early September for a November or December harvest.
Overall, you can tell that cauliflower is ready to harvest based on its appearance. The heads should be 6 to 8 inches in diameter and the vegetable should have a firm, compact texture to it.
While most varieties of cauliflower are white in color, some varieties actually end up orange or purple. For these types, you want vivid, uniform colors to know they are ready for harvest.
If you’re worried about harvesting too early, signs your cauliflower isn’t ready to include a head that is not completely white. Furthermore, signs your cauliflower is past its prime is if the bunches on the head have spread out too far.
It may seem a bit daunting, waiting for the right moment to pick cauliflower, but if not done right, the vegetable will be too bitter and it will be a waste of your growing efforts.
What happens if you don’t harvest cauliflower?
While some people think cauliflower is an annual plant, meaning you need to constantly replant it each year, some varieties are actually biennial plants.
This means if you have a biennial plant, it will actually produce cauliflower the second year after it has grown. However, annual varieties are more common and the plant is treated as thus.
All this means is that unfortunately, if you don’t harvest your cauliflower, you won’t get a second chance at it. The white head of the cauliflower will thin out and turn a mottled grey.
Then, the entire plant will stop taking in nutrients. The plant will grow flowers that turn to seed, and then once winter hits the entire plant will become a mushy mess.
You can try to harvest cauliflower seeds once it flowers and save them for the next planting season.
How to harvest cauliflower?
We mentioned earlier that you want to wait until the main head of your cauliflower plant reaches 6 to 8 inches in width. There will be one main head on a plant and this is what you want to chop off.
Take a sharp knife and locate the base of the plant. There may be too many leaves in the way to find this part so if you need to, you can remove some of the foliage.
Leave 3 to 4 inches of the stalk to the head as this will make it easier to cut and prepare. With your sharp knife, cut through at a 45-degree angle.
The angle on your cut will allow more nutrients in. Also, as long as your plant is in the right growing conditions, it will actually grow more cauliflower heads.
While these new heads will be smaller in size than the original main head, they are still perfectly edible.
Around the base of the cauliflower head, you will find a mane of green leaves. You will want to remove these soon after harvesting.
While you can simply put the leaves in your compost bin, you can actually eat cauliflower leaves. They are best used in a stir-fry so the thick leaves have a chance to break down a bit.
Along the cauliflower stalk that is still in the ground, there may be more green leaves. Remove these as well to encourage the plant to grow more cauliflower heads.
How to harvest cauliflower florets?
One of the best parts of growing cauliflower is that you can have a long harvest season with proper care. Even though the main head is gone, you should still water the plant one to two times a week. Water more if there is little rainfall.
Within a week or so, you should see mini cauliflower heads emerge, called florets. These will be much smaller than the original head and there will be bunches of three or four in the middle of the plant.
While small in size, they are completely edible. Take your sharp knife and cut off the miniature florets, again cutting on the diagonal. They will be about 2 to 4 inches in width.
You may only get one additional harvest of these florets, but you may even get a second bonus harvest if the weather cooperates.
If there are still leftover leaves on your plant, you should remove them from the stalk. Either compost them or use them for cooking purposes as there are plenty of nutrients in these leaves.
Should you wash cauliflower after harvesting?
After harvesting, you can give your cauliflower a good dusting off of dirt and debris. You should also cut off the stalk to just under the base and remove any of the leaves.
While not everyone washes cauliflower immediately after harvesting, it is a good habit to get into. Furthermore, mix water with vinegar to kill any bacteria and keep your vegetable fresher for longer.
Mix 2 cups of cool water with ½ cup of white vinegar. Place this together in a large bowl and add your cauliflower. You will have to break the cauliflower up into smaller pieces to fit inside the bowl.
Let everything soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Afterward, give your cauliflower a good rinse to remove the vinegar. Finally, place the cauliflower on a paper towel and let it air dry.
Once washed and dried, you can put your cauliflower pieces into a plastic bag. Remove excess air from the bag and seal it closed.
Place the bag of cauliflower in the fridge where it will keep for five to seven days.
An alternative option is to freeze your cauliflower. This is a great idea if you have a large harvest and want to enjoy your home-grown vegetable year-round.
Again, make sure it is washed and dried. Then, instead of placing the sealed bag in the fridge, place it in your freezer. It will last there for six to nine months.
When you are ready to cook your frozen cauliflower, simply remove it from the freezer and let it thaw for one to two hours. The smaller the pieces are that are frozen, the easier it is to use exactly the amount you want.
Can you eat cauliflower immediately after harvesting?
Yes, after you harvest and wash your cauliflower, you can eat it. Cauliflower is great on its own as a raw snack or it can be cooked in a variety of dishes.
Cauliflower is a truly versatile vegetable and if you can grow it in your garden, you will have instant access to a plethora of nutrients.
Harvest your cauliflower in the fall or spring, depending on when you plant it. And as a bonus, you will get smaller florets in addition to the main head of cauliflower.