We’re out in the fields harvesting caulis at the moment, with another two weeks left to pick. Our season starts in November and usually runs until mid March, and then we start ordering the seed for next year before planting begins in June, so there’s always something going on.
Normally caulis like this kind of weather. They like wet, wild and windy conditions, and our fields down here in Cornwall are generally sloping so the rain can run off. It’s the hail that can really damage them if their hearts are open, and there was a bad hailstorm in November that lost us 30,000 heads. I could have cried. Our profit is what’s left after the cost of labour and the cost of the plant, so we’ll be 10 per cent down this year. It’s nature, isn’t it, there’s no guarantee.
The November losses aside, the crops are actually really good quality this year: they like the land down here, which is why caulis have been grown in Cornwall for over 150 years. We grow them near enough like my grandfather would have grown them; he grew organically without even realising, using animal dung on the ground and growing a lot of grass in a crop rotation.
The crops are mechanically planted and hand harvested, and we also have a small herd of beef cows who fertilise the ground. You can’t farm organically around here without the cattle – they feed the ground, and we grow the caulis.
I’m looking for more farms in west Cornwall to go organic, because we’re having to turn away people looking for organic caulis, greens or new potatoes. There’s a real market there, but farmers are often set in their ways – and they’re also nervous about the two-year transition period in the certification process, when you can’t sell your crops as organic.
Luckily for us, Cornwall has really positive connotations; people know it from their summer holidays and have happy memories here. Organic is another great story. Put them together and there’s nothing quite like the peppery taste of a fresh organic cauliflower from Cornwall in the middle of a British winter.