Cauliflower is no longer out of season

Nowadays Plant breeding is so advanced that some winter crops can ­successfully be planted throughout the year.
Issue date 8 June 2007

In ­tropical countries there are ­summer varieties that even cope well with heat. These varieties are early maturing ­with fewer protective leaves ­covering the head than we are used to. And so their market had to get ­accustomed to a curd that is not as white as ours but still tastes the same.

Back in South Africa, ­producers will have to ­continue to ensure perfect white heads that have been protected by wrapper leaves, as our ­market will not accept anything less. Before summer varieties were ­available, farmers had to ensure pure white heads by ­breaking leaves over the developing heads or by using elastic bands to keep them closed until ready for harvest.

Most cauliflower products are now presented as pre-packs and the heads usually have a clean head weight of 800g to 1kg, although most varieties have the ­capacity to produce much larger heads. In South Africa it is assumed that the ­market for cauliflower is largely European. ­European families tend to be small, which has ­contributed to a smaller head now being produced than 20 to 30 years ago. Africans prefer ­cabbages from the Brassica range that has little change in head size. Overall, we require a larger head size than what is marketed in most countries, although our families have significantly reduced in size.

In the past, winter maturing varieties had good head ­wrapper leaves, whereas ­summer varieties had less protection. This is rather ironic as the opposite is required. These winter varieties took very long before heading which resulted in enormous heads. Five months from transplant was the norm. Some varieties would take much longer than this and would maintain the head wrapping much further into summer. The economics eliminated this range as soon as improved hybrids hit the market. Twenty years ago Portuguese farmers would talk about five, six and seven month ­varieties that were selected by individuals to extend the season. These varieties were abandoned as soon as more versatile hybrids became available. Many now lament the loss of these varieties which would have been a ­valuable source of germplasm for ­breeders.

Modern plant breeding has made it a lot easier to grow this crop, but the seed price has risen tremendously. It will ­probably level out when more ­summer varieties are available. – Bill Kerr. Contact Bill Kerr on (016) 366 0616 or e-mail [email protected].