Winter cauliflower crop teaches lessons in patience, timing

By Sanda Baucom Hight
Posted 1/10/20

This year’s backyard winter garden is surviving and thriving, at least some of our varieties.

Carrots and radishes are not producing yet; romaine and other lettuces were eaten by deer (we saw …

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Winter cauliflower crop teaches lessons in patience, timing

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This year’s backyard winter garden is surviving and thriving, at least some of our varieties.

Carrots and radishes are not producing yet; romaine and other lettuces were eaten by deer (we saw dear tracks in our raised bed); kale leaves were also nibbled to the stalk, but they are coming back in spite of our deer friends’ help-themselves attitude. We will have plenty of kale to cut in about a week. Our six celery plants, a first for us this year, are properly tied and growing up a storm but not ready to harvest.

The 12 broccoli plants, although growing nicely, are not ready to harvest, but they show promise as last year’s crop did.

But the queen of this year’s winter garden is the cauliflower crop, our second year of planting what Mark Twain calls “cabbage with a college education.”

Our 12 cauliflower plants surprised us this year with healthy green leaves and pale-yellow heads that formed about a month ago and are presently captivating us in anticipation of maturity and harvest.

We learned last year that cauliflower is delicate and must be harvested at exactly the right time. The yellow heads turn brown if the temperature dips below 26 degrees. Also, when the florets begin to separate, it is time to harvest, even if the head is short of its desired 6-to-8-inch diameter.

We actually harvested one of our small cauliflower heads this week, since we noticed the beginning of floret separation. We enjoyed the small delight, properly steamed and buttered as a fine side dish at a midweek meal.

At the time of this writing, 11 heads remain, growing every day and reaching maturity at their own pace. We check them daily to determine if we can give them more time to reach their peak.

If necessary, we will cut the heads a few at a time if they get too cold, start to turn brown and show signs of floret separation.

So, why don’t we just go to Harris Teeter and purchase a perfect head of cauliflower occasionally, rather than deal with all the factors involved in growing one of our favorite vegetables?

The challenge of planting, nurturing, observing, protecting, harvesting, freezing, cooking and enjoying our own crop drives us to the task this year.

This week’s cold snap required us to cover our plants for a few nights for fear of their being harmed by the lower than desired temperature. A tarp and some old tobacco sheets did the trick.

Our 11 cauliflower friends still remain in our raised bed, surrounded by healthy green leaves that soak up the sun and nurture them per nature’s design.

Our freezer containers are ready; the space on the freezer shelf is waiting and our patience and timing hang in the balance for the time when our crop will be safely gathered in.

Can the patience and timing of our winter crop spill over into other aspects of our lives? Absolutely, if we take the time to think about it, and there is opportunity.

We love our kale, celery, broccoli, romaine, carrots, radishes and all the other crops that survive or were enjoyed by the deer, but our friends — the beautiful, nutritious, sassy heads of cauliflower — give us hope, increase our patience and hone our sense of timing during this growing season.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.” Add nature’s genius for timing and watch the magic of creation.

After we harvest more of our cauliflower, the icing on the cake will be to perfect a recipe for cauliflower tempura, such as we enjoyed at a fine restaurant in Raleigh in December.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on charms and ideas for a fuller life. Email her at srbhight8@gmail.com.