WHAT’S FRESH: BUYING OPPORTUNITIES : Cool Customer : Cauliflower prefers a nippy climate, but organically grown crops are available now.

A crunchy staple for salads and dips, this unlikely cousin of cabbage and Brussels sprouts is also steamed and enjoyed as an accompanying side dish.

Primarily harvested in Ventura County during the cooler winter months, organically grown cauliflower is available now at the Organic Vitality roadside stand in Ventura.

“Ventura County isn’t a real big producer of cauliflower,” said Paul Carpenter, part owner of Coastal Organics, which runs the stand, “because it does best in the areas where the evenings get really cool.”


Given Ventura County’s year-round mild weather, often not even the winter months provide the cold air the plant prefers, “but we’re able to grow pretty good stuff around here,” he said.

Carpenter said hundreds of varieties are available to farmers to suit their growing needs and market niches.

The Organic Vitality stand features a wide selection of produce grown without the use of pesticides.

“We use a couple of different methods to control pests--namely the aphid bug--on our cauliflower,” Carpenter said, “one of them being soap.”

A biodegradable fatty-acid soap is mixed with water and sprayed on the plants.

“In order to be effective, the soap must come in contact with the bugs,” Carpenter said. “Otherwise it will not kill them.”

Coastal Organics also utilizes beneficial insects, such as the ladybug, to combat pests.

The cabbage worm is notorious for wreaking havoc on cauliflower, Carpenter said. “For the worms, we apply a selected bacteria that they will eat and is damaging only to the worms and nothing else,” he said.

When harvest time arrives, pickers enter the fields and the cauliflower heads are sliced off at the stalk, one by one.

“The pickers will immediately put each head in a plastic bag, and from the field the cauliflower is moved into cold storage.”

Carpenter said the heads must be put in plastic and moved to cold storage soon after harvest to delay the inevitable drying out of the vegetable.

“One thing about cauliflower is it won’t last long after being cut,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter offered these tips when buying cauliflower:

“The head should be firm and tight, you don’t want one that’s loose. Also, the base of the head or edge will crumble off if it’s overmature or has been sitting for a while.”

Organic Vitality is located at Telephone Road and Olivas Park Drive, Ventura. Call 650-0744.

Fond of pineapple but find that it’s a little too acidic to stomach? Gelson’s Market, 2734 Townsgate Road, Westlake Village, may have what you’ve been looking for.

“We have the Tahiti pineapple, which is low in acid and is like eating sugar, real sweet,” produce manager Clyde Yamaguchi said. The Tahiti pineapple is smaller than the Hawaiian version and sells for $1.98 a pound.

Noren’s Market, 5171 Telegraph Road, Ventura, is featuring vine-ripened cantaloupe and honeydew melons “at their peak condition.”

“These are coming from the Mendota area below San Francisco and the heat is really sweetening the melons,” manager Henry Flores said.

Jue’s Market in Ventura has a fresh supply of Thompson seedless and red flame grapes. “We just got a big batch in from Bakersfield--people are really enjoying them,” produce manager Ken Kwan said. The market is at 1947 E. Main St., Ventura.