A cruciferous vegetable that presents gardeners with more challenges that most vegetables, cauliflower (Brassica oleracea L. botrytis) thrives in cool, humid climates and is sensitive to hot weather, drought and cold temperatures. In suitable conditions, this mild-tasting, nutrient-rich vegetable is an important ingredient in a number of flavorful dishes. Harvest of timing is critical, as overripe cauliflower loses quality quickly.
Average Time to Harvest
Cauliflower is usually grown by planting starts, or transplants, in early spring so the heads mature before the arrival of hot summer weather. The average time from planting to harvest varies depending on variety. "White Corona" and "Snow King" are early varieties that ripen in about 30 to 50 days, respectively. "Andes," at the other end of the spectrum, ripens in approximately 68 eight days. However, most varieties require 60 to 65 days.
Size and Appearance
A ripe cauliflower measures 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The head is tightly-packed, compact, fairly smooth and feels firm to the touch. The cauliflower should have no soft spots, brown discoloration or blemishes. The color at readiness is white or pale ivory. When cauliflower turns yellow, the flavor becomes bitter. An overripe cauliflower also develops an unpleasant, mealy, or ricey texture.
As the cauliflower head grows, the leaves surrounding the head open and expose the cauliflower to sunlight, resulting in a yellow color and a bitter, unpleasant flavor. Blanching the heads when they reach 2 to 3 inches in diameter protects the cauliflower from sunlight and maintains the color and flavor. To blanch cauliflower, bring the outer leaves up to cover the cauliflower and and tie them together over the head with tape, twine or a rubber band. Once the cauliflower is blanched, the remaining time until harvest averages about seven to 12 days, depending on the weather.
Harvest a ripe cauliflower by cutting the head at ground level with a large, sharp knife. Leave one or two sets of outer leaves intact to protect the head. Store cauliflower in the refrigerator, where it retains its quality for about one week. Dispose of the plant or place it on the compost pile, as cauliflower does not continue to grow after the head is harvested.