Cauliflowers and Beetroot
8th Sep 1999
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Cauliflowers are an extremely difficult vegetable to grow to
perfection for a given show day and you need to have a few staggered sowings
if you are to have some element of success. As my garden is now nearly all raised
beds, the bulk of the cauliflowers are grown in a field which is at least 700
feet above sea level and the plants are usually kept free from aphids with no
need to spray them. The remainder of the plants are grown in my onion polytunnel,
being planted into the same planting holes as the onions when they are removed.
There's no doubt that cauliflowers require nitrogen early on in their development in order to build up a large framework of strong leaves and mine are usually given a scattering of Nitram around each one twice in the season. The first feed will be applied when the plants are well anchored into the soil and really starting to grow away. The second application will be given immediately after the second batch of weeds are removed and when the plants are a foot or so high. I always try to make sure that the Nitram is applied when the weather forecast predicts that some heavy rain is imminent and the difference to the growing pattern and colour of foliage is immediately noticeable.
About two weeks before a show, I walk through the rows having a good look down into the heart to see if there is any sign of curd development. Cauliflowers are often slow to start developing, but once the curd is there to be seen, they very quickly develop into maturity in a matter of a few days. I was discussing this with a commercial grower of cauliflowers a few weeks ago and he says that if the ground is moist with warm weather, a 4 inch diameter cauliflower can be very near to six inches in diameter in 48 hours. I then check the schedule to make sure of the societies' requirements regarding staging. Some will ask for the cauliflowers to be staged with roots attached, other schedules will stipulate that they are to be shown with a 3 inch stem. Failure to comply with the schedule usually ends in disaster with your exhibit being awarded the NAS card (not according to schedule). I know all too well, it happened to me last year! It"s not a pleasant experience, particularly when the judge tells you that you would probably have won that class.
In my case, as the field is a few miles away from home, I pull the best cauliflowers a day before the show and when I get home each cauliflower is placed in a bucket of water so that they are fully charged with moisture prior to cutting before leaving for the show. Pack the cauliflowers very carefully as the least bruising on the curd will downpoint the exhibit. Once you are happy that you have a good set for the class, tie the foliage back together for transporting to the show.
At the Showground
At the showground, trim off all the outer foliage to slightly above the diameter of the curd so that when the cauliflowers are staged on the bench, they will be sitting on the stalks with the curd clear of the bench. If the cauliflowers have been treated right and well charged with water, the curd will remain solid and firm for a few days, so there is no need to spray the curd with extra water. I have pulled some from a field on a Wednesday to stage at Chelsea, they were judged the following Monday and the curds were still firm on the Thursday of the same week, eight days after being lifted from the ground. Once you are happy that you have staged them with their best face ready to greet the judge, cover them over with some black cloth to totally exclude the light and leave your exhibitors card face down. Leave your variety card close to your entry as well which helps other growers who are visiting the show to see what varieties are winning so that they can grow them next year.
Round beetroot are relatively easy to grow but you can improve your chances of winning in what can often be the most contested class in a show by making sure that the interior colour of the beet is good with no visible white rings. I learnt a trick from my father to improve the colour of the flesh by leaving the selected entry in a bucket half full of water to which a good handful of table salt has been added and well stirred in. The beetroot are then kept in the bucket for about four hours at which point they are removed. The salt certainly helps to bring out the colour and when cut, the flesh will be uniformly dark red throughout, enhancing your chances of winning that red card.
A Word of Caution
One word of caution, don't forget to remove them from the bucket. My father forgot to do so some years ago and left them overnight. The following morning they were dried and placed on the white paper that was covering the show tables. When he returned to the tent after judging there was no red card, only a red patch underneath his exhibit where the beetroot had continued to bleed having been left in the salt water far too long!