TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Cauliflower, Brassica oleracea, is an edible flower originating in Asia. It belongs to the same family as cabbage, along with bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, and kale—collectively referred to as cole crops.
A cool season vegetable, cauliflower is available in varying head or curd sizes, as well as colors including yellow, purple, green, and orange varieties. Romanesco is an Italian broccoli-cauliflower hybrid with pointy florets and more pronounced flavor. The most popular varieties in America are white, achieved by protecting the curd from sunlight.
Unlike several of its siblings in the cabbage family, cauliflower is more sensitive to the cold and not as easy to grow. There are dozens of varieties in North America, producing white or colored curds including Andes, Aquarius, Candid Charm, Cheddar, Graffiti, Green Goddess, Orange, Self-Blanche, Serrano, Snow Crown, Snow Grace, Snowball Y Improved, Synergy, Veronica, Violet Queen, and White Corona.
Most cauliflower grown in the United States is destined for the fresh market, with only a small portion for processing. Newer products with finely chopped and crumbled cauliflower are marketed as a carb substitute and gluten-free alternative for flour.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Massachusetts (Amherst) Center for Agriculture.
PESTS & DISEASE
Nematodes or roundworms are a frequent nuisance for cole crops. They are more noticeable on smaller plants, living in the soil and feeding on roots while laying eggs in white cysts. Although cauliflower may serve as a host, quantities or infestation would need to be significant to cause widespread damage to the crop (i.e., reducing yields or affecting maturation).
Other pests of note include aphids, bagrada bugs, beetles, cabbage loppers, cabbage maggots, leafminers, leafrollers, moths, whiteflies, and various types of worms.
Wirestem is a pathogenic fungus that attacks the roots and lower stem of plants and typically affects recently transplanted cauliflower. To minimize wirestem, make sure soil is not overly wet and plants are not placed too deeply in the soil.
Black rot is caused by bacteria and is one of the more prevalent diseases affecting cauliflower due to warm temperatures and excess moisture. It can appear as black flecks, scorched leaf margins, or a blackened curd. Sooty mold or curd smudge presents in a similar manner near harvest but can be eliminated with washing.
Other diseases include blight, clubroot, fusarium, leaf spot (Alternaria and bacterial), downy mildew, molds, Phytophthora root rot, verticillium wilt, and white rust.
References: Pacific Northwest Pest Management, University of California Vegetable Research and Information Center, University of Illinois Extension.