100 years of growing cauliflower

Cauliflower is a notoriously hard crop to grow – we always get allotment growers asking how we do it. There’s a lot of experience that goes into making it happen writes grower Cathy Case.

This year is going to be my family’s 100th year of growing cauliflowers here at Bigbury-on-Sea in south Devon. Cauliflower is a notoriously hard crop to grow – we always get allotment growers asking how we do it. The answer is, there’s a lot of knowledge and experience that goes into making it happen, and that comes with being in the business for such a long time. You learn all the really important factors, and know when to make the right decision at the right time.

Being close to the coast helps, because it means we don’t get as many frosts; cauliflowers don’t like the cold. That’s why we’ve had shortages recently, because it’s been so chilly, and they just don’t grow. This week has been really challenging – we were supposed to deliver 10,000 cauliflowers, and we’ve struggled to get 2000. They’re in the field, but about the size of tennis balls rather than footballs.

But we’re used to challenging weather. You just have to be able to adapt and get on with what you can do. You can’t let it get you down; if it did, you’d never get anything done. Having said that, this year I’m crossing my fingers for some kinder weather in the spring, so we don’t get that heavy Battle-of-the-Somme mud. In 2020 with the drought, I said I’d never complain about the rain again, but typical farmer – we’re always complaining about the weather!

Cathy and caulis
Growing on the coast means there is less chance of frost.

This year I’m also really keen to try some no-till techniques on the farm. Each time we cultivate (dig or plough), we disturb the soil. It’s not something we want to do, but historically it’s been a necessity. With no-till techniques, you don’t cultivate; instead you plant directly into the undisturbed soil.

This would really help us to look after the health of the soil; it’s better for the worms and the microbial life, and we’d burn less diesel too. But, it’s risky. If you get a weed problem, what do you do? I don’t know the answer to that question. Then there’s the money issue; it involves really expensive kit, and right now that is out of range. Still, it’s something exciting to begin experimenting with in the year ahead.


Leave a Reply

  1. Is there any sort of Green investment scheme whereby interested veg-eaters can crowd fund for the equipment you need? I would be up for helping via the right scheme. Also what about Triodos Bank -they could be helpful. And Permaculture community maybe too.

  2. Congratulations on your family’s 100th anniversary, that’s fantastic! My own grandfather was a veg grower but he had to leave farming in the 1930s, the last straw was having to return from market with an unsold wagon of cabbages. He carried on growing delicious tomatoes and veg until the 70s though so we were brought up to appreciate good quality veg, your cauliflowers are perfect 🙂

    One of the great things about Riverford is they provide a fair and stable market for their farmers plus all the benefits organic farming brings to the environment. Good luck with your anniversary year, some kind weather and finding a way forward with the no-till techniques and the costs involved.

  3. i would love to see a petition by the public to stop supermarkets dictating sizes & uniformity of vegetables to farmers. I saw a photo posted on Twitter of cauliflowers being thrown away just because they were outside the size parameter of Tesco’s. Which is barmy to me on so many levels. For people on a tight budget or living alone ought to be able to buy vegetables by weight & waste less.

    1. In ways you’re right, it has gone way too far with the regulations the supermarkets exert on growers (they have far too much power). We do not need apples that look all the same, with that waxy gleen.

      But I was talking with the Riverford farm manager, and he said it’s a delicate balance because the reason we have these size and shape regulations is that it is good agricultural practice to grow a straight carrot (for example) and not a wonky one, or courgettes that are the correct size (this is for taste!). While they should never be wasted as such, we still need to incentivise our farmers and growers to follow this practice.

      In Riverford’s case, they are in charge of their own quality control so if there is a genuinely good reason for why the cabbages are too small, or in this case the cauliflowers etc, and there’s nothing unusual about the taste then they accept them and explain to customers the reason why they don’t look normal – normally customers quite like these quirks!

      But in general, they want to incentivise good practice, because that is normally what tastes the best.

  4. I have reduced my visits to the supermarket to once a month for the tins and boxes of stuff that are just too expensive in the small shops.

    As well as their produce departments, I loathe their packaging too

  5. We ate one of your cauliflowers for the first time this week – and it was a revelation! Fantastic colour, tight florets and the leaves were delicious. Congratulations on your produce and your determination and I look forward to getting more of your great veg.

  6. Hi, I read this article and am a Riverford customer and a farmer. I also own a company manufacturing strip/No till systems for veg. I would be happy to help setup some plots with you to do trials as I am a great fan of riverford and would like to help make it more sustainable not just for my own financial benefit. You can contact me on 07718583342 or George.sly@horizonagriculture.com

    1. Hi George, thanks very much for your kind offer. We have passed on your message to Cathy directly so she can get in touch if this is of interest. A very generous thought. Thank you.


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