Cauliflower seeds are drab and inconspicuous, giving no indication that inside each brown casing there is a marvellous story waiting to be revealed. Last July I rolled the small brown seeds, no larger than the tip of a pencil, into a tray of black compost, one seed per dibble, spaced one inch apart in a tidy row. With the warm weather and the long days they germinated rapidly. First came a frenetic root lined with minute hairs perfect for absorbing nutrients and moisture then came a pair of cotyledons, the leaf-like structures that already existed inside the seed before it was ever sown. When the young plants had developed 5 or 6 leaves they were ready to transplant into the raised bed at the end of the garden.
By now it was nearly August and the plants had about seven weeks of ideal growing conditions before the cooling weather and shortening days would start to slow down their growth. After a few weeks, as the young plants settled into their new location and began to grow, I patted some nutrient rich chicken manure around the base of each young plant. Cauliflower plants like that, it helps them form massive leaves which in turn will feed the developing head.
Of course any story would not be complete without a villain or in this case a horde of them. The fiendish cabbage moths made their appearance within a few hours of transplanting. Attracted by the succulent blue green leaves they were soon hovering above my babies with eggs ready to be released on the young plants. Fortunately most of the eggs were consumed by patrolling wasps, while some hatched to decorate the young plants with lace holes.
As the days began to cool and summer gave way to autumn the plants started to look mature, and by early October most of the plants rewarded me with succulent white heads. In the kitchen I made fragrant aloo gobi, creamy cauliflower soup, and surprisingly satisfying “wings.”Three of the plants did not produce, they continued to grow slowly through one of the mildest autumns that I can remember. By December they were 3 feet across and no sign of fruit, I knew because I had carefully spread the leaves at the center of the plant to check. The plants sparkled with good health, each leaf was flawless and pretty as a picture.
I never cease to be astonished by the plant world. I walk my garden regularly even in winter, it is after all an extension of our pantry and refrigerator. Imagine my surprise when on New Year’s Day I am greeted with pure white cauliflowers nestled among the leaves as if they sprang up overnight. The cauliflower was succulent and crisp, probably the best I’d ever had, sweetened as it was by cold nights and anticipation!
Gardening, like life, is full of variables, many of them out of our control. It is the variability that makes a garden so satisfying at times and frustrating at others. I am glad it is like that, I enjoy the triumph of success when all the nuances of weather and timing and skill work together to produce a perfect harvest. Even the failures in gardening are sweet in hindsight because they help me appreciate the successes and they teach me to be innovative in my efforts. I am a better gardener because unexpected challenges have challenged me to do things differently.
The start of this new year could be viewed as the planting of an inconspicuous seed, Despite all our schemes and aspirations there are mostly unknown events. At the beginning of this year I wish you all, dear readers, the very best that this checkered life has to offer.There will undoubtedly be setbacks and challenges but I hope that they will be balanced with successes and victories, joys and achievements. In short, I wish you all a fruitful and productive year!