What's wrong with my cauliflower?

The first time I grew cauliflower, it turned out perfectly. I thought… this is easy! I tried growing it again this year and I had plenty of volunteers for the “what’s wrong with my cauliflower?” pictures. 

Cauliflower is a cool weather crop in the Brassica family (which includes collards, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts). It’s trickier to grow than its relatives because it doesn’t like it too hot … or too cold. It is also very sensitive to moisture and doesn’t like to have soggy roots or dry out. 

Some things (such as temperature) are out of our control. But for more detailed information on how to successfully grow cauliflower, check out this post.

Wondering what went wrong when you tried to grow cauliflower?

Do any of these pictures look familiar?

Discoloration or purple tinged edges in white varieties – This can be caused by exposure to sunlight. To prevent this, cover head by blanching.

To blanch: When head is visible and about 2 inches wide, outer leaves can be clipped together with a clothespin to cover head and keep out of sunlight. Clip together loosely and check occasionally for pests and growth, or to let dry out after a rain.

What's wrong with my cauliflower?
What's wrong with my cauliflower?

Bitter taste – This can be caused by too much heat or sun. It can also taste bitter from a lack of moisture, uneven watering, waiting too long to harvest or overcooking. Purple varieties tend to be less bitter. 

Loose heads or buttoning (very small head or several small heads) – This can be caused by young plants exposed to several days of freezing temperatures. It can also be caused by a lack of
water or nitrogen, or waiting too long to harvest.

What's wrong with my cauliflower?
What's wrong with my cauliflower?

Head covered in small flowers – This happens when you wait too long to harvest. Cauliflower has bolted and is focused on producing seeds. The plant becomes bitter and inedible.  

(Bolting happens when the ground reaches a certain temperature. The plant wants to ensure survival and shifts to producing flowers and seeds rapidly.) 

Holes in leaves – This is caused by cabbage worms or cabbage loopers. When you see the holes, handpick caterpillars or cover small plants with floating row cover to prevent moths from landing on leaves and laying eggs. Rotate where you plant brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.) each season to help prevent pest and disease problems in the soil. Read here for more tips to prevent pests and diseases organically in the garden.

What's wrong with my cauliflower?