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!
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.