Comparing Cauliflower from 4 Different Gardens

Comparing Cauliflower from 4 Different Gardens


One of the interesting aspects of this RED
Gardens project is that it offers the opportunity to examine vegetables grown in gardens that
are following different methods. I’d love to say that I’m on top of all these
methods, that everything’s going really well and adopting them to this context, but I’m
not really there yet. This is partially due to the crazy weather
that we’ve had this season, and I have also been too busy to attend to some of the details
and I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. But I still think it’s useful to examine the
growth of particular crops as it helps to identify issues within the various methods,
to figure out what’s going well and what’s going poorly. Within this context it was quite interesting
to examine the growth and eventual yields of a batch of cauliflower that I planted in
four of the family scale gardens: the Extensive, Intensive, No-Dig and Polytunnel Gardens. One did quite well, two were reasonably decent
and one was embarrassingly poor, but I think that’s mostly my fault as I was trying something new. Cauliflower can be a tricky crop to grow well,
and I haven’t had consistent success with it in the past. All of the plants for these gardens were from
one batch that I sowed into soil blocks on the 21st of March. It ended up being a cold and delayed spring,
and because I was so busy, I didn’t get a chance to transplant these plants into the
gardens until the first week of May, which was later than I would have wanted. So, the plants didn’t get a great start,
but they were still in decent shape; they weren’t root bound, but they were definitely
reaching the limits of the soil blocks. Before transplanting, the beds in each of
these gardens was prepared in a different method, with different amounts and types of
fertility being added. For the Extensive Garden, I dug compost and
chicken manure pellets into the stations marked out for each of the plants. I double-dug the entire bed in the Intensive
Garden, and topped it off with a decent layer of compost. I would have preferred using twice as much
compost, but I didn’t have enough, so I added some chicken manure pellets to supplement
the fertility. For the No-Dig Garden, I spread a 40mm thick
layer of compost over the entire bed, on top of a layer of apple pulp, which I’d used
as an overwintering mulch, and this ended up not being a great idea. The bed in the Polytunnel Garden was well
cultivated earlier in the spring, incorporating a fair amount of compost, Soft Rock Phosphate, some seaweed meal, and some chicken manure pellets. I then sowed an early batch of rocket or arugula
in this bed, and ended up transplanting the cauliflower plants into spaces cleared in
this carpet of salad greens. The plant spacing was also different in each
of the gardens, which is important as the distance between the plants can affect the
size of the head that’s eventually harvested. In general, the closer the plants are together,
the smaller the individual heads will be, but with potentially the same yield over a
given area. Each of the plants in the Extensive Garden
had lots of room to grow really big. This was partially because the cauliflower
plants had several weeks head start to become really established, before they had to compete with other plants transplanted into the adjacent rows. The plants in the Intensive Garden were much
closer together, with a density of about twice as many plants per square meter as with the
Extensive Garden. I used a moderate plant spacing for the No-Dig
Garden, somewhere between the Extensive and Intensive Gardens, and there was only slight
competition form adjacent crops. The Polytunnel Garden had the highest plant
density out of all of the gardens, and there was also a fair amount of competition from
the rocket plants for the first week or so, as well as from an adjacent crop of tomatoes
later in the season. After transplanting, I covered all of the
plants outside with a crop cover, to protect from caterpillars and flee beetles, but I
didn’t cover the crops in the polytunnel. For the first few weeks that the plants were
in the ground, we had reasonably good weather conditions, but then it turned unseasonably
hot and dry for the remainder of the period that they were growing, right up until after
the last cauliflower was harvested near the end of July. We even had a short heatwave at the end of
June, which could cause problems for this crop which normally prefers cooler growing
conditions. But then a heatwave in Ireland isn’t that
hot, although it did get exceptionally hot in the polytunnel. The lack of rain was probably a more critical
issue, although I didn’t notice any wilting or other obvious signs of water stress. There were signs of nutritional deficiencies
though, including the purple tinting of the older leaves that is characteristic of phosphorous
deficiencies, and I suspect this was because I didn’t provide enough water at some point
during the extended dry period. This seems to be a critical issue with the
calcareous soil that I’m working with. The high pH of 7.5 can restrict the availability
of phosphorus and some of the other nutrients, a situation that seems to be made worse when
the soil moisture is too low. There was phosphorus in the soil, its just
that the plants couldn’t get access to it fast enough. Given these conditions, I was reasonably pleased with what I was able to harvest from the Intensive Garden. Out of the 8 plants, 5 of them produced reasonably
sized, good shaped heads, one was a little small, one I harvested a little late and it
had grown past its prime, and another one developed a strange surface mould, which made
it inedible. There was also an interesting pink coloration
around the edge of some of the heads, and pink dots in the middle of some of the curds
or immature flower buds. Apparently this is caused by exposure to the
sun if the heads aren’t shaded out by the leaves being folded over or tied up, but apparently
it can also be caused by significant fluctuations in temperatures. Either way, the heads are still edible. In addition to the signs of phosphorous deficiencies
in the older leaves, a lot of the younger leaves had burnt or decayed tips. I’m not sure if this was due to a lack of
soil moisture or some other deficiencies, but I imagine that the situation was exacerbated
by the plants being spaced so close together. All of these issues were signs that conditions
could definitely have been better, and if they were, I’d expect a better crop. The cauliflower crop in the polytunnel did
better than I thought it would, given the heat and the not great start for the crop. Transplanting the cauliflower in amongst the
existing rocket plants was probably not a great idea, as it seems to have stressed the
plants, which weren’t in great shape to begin with, and I probably should have removed
the rocket plants earlier than I did. But after that, the plants grew really strongly,
and filled out all available space. By the time the heads were large enough harvest,
the younger leaves had developed that same decayed or dried tips that I’d noticed in
the Intensive Garden, but there wasn’t any signs of phosphorus deficiencies. And this led me to believe that while I may
not have been watering enough, the soft rock phosphate that I had added to the soil at
the beginning of the season, was having a positive impact. The cauliflower from this garden was beautifully
white, thanks to the natural shading from the density of foliage, and the heads were
generally quite large too, about 50% heavier than in the Intensive Garden, despite the
closer density and the competition from other crops. One of the heads was noticeably smaller than
the others, but I’d accidentally pulled this plant up when I was removing the remains
of the rocket or arugula crop, which is possibly another reason to avoid intercropping. The crop from the No-Dig Garden did really
poorly, despite the abundance of compost and lots of space for each plant. I’m assuming that this is because of an experiment
that I had tried. Friends of mine have a small apple juice pressing
business, and we were talking about how I might be able to make use of the abundance
of apple pulp that is left over after the juice is pressed out of it. And I decided to try to use it as an overwintering
mulch on areas of the No-Dig Garden, including the bed that this cauliflower grew in. This mulch layer was quite wet for most of
the winter, and well into the cool wet spring that we had, but there was a lot of worm activity
throughout it, so I wasn’t too worried. I’m not sure what the actual issue was,
whether it was too acidic, or hadn’t had enough time to decompose, or some other biological
or nutrient based issue. Things might have been better if I had added
the thick layer of compost much earlier, to allow things to settle down a bit. But in the end the plants grew quite slowly,
especially for the first few weeks after transplanting, and a lot of the older leaves developed a
strange discolouration. The harvest was quite disappointing. Some of the heads were ok, though quite a
bit smaller than they could have been, and there was a lot more slug damage on the surface
of the cauliflower, than I’d seen in some of the other gardens, and some of the other
heads I just abandoned or threw out. The cauliflower heads harvested from the Extensive
Garden were substantially larger than in the other gardens, about twice as heavy as from
the Intensive Garden, despite having less overall fertility. And I imagine that this is simply due to each
of the plants having a lot more space. There were some signs of phosphorous deficiencies
in the older leaves, so the plants weren’t entirely healthy, but the smallest leaves
of the mature plant were in great shape. The heads were generally a lot more yellow
than from the other gardens, but this was due mainly to the wider spacing of the plants,
which left the heads more exposed to the sun, at least where I didn’t fold in the leaves
or tie them up. The cauliflower heads were definitely more
dense than in the other gardens, with more tightly packed curds, and part of this could
be because I harvested them a little bit earlier, because they already seemed big enough. Looking over all the final data from the four
gardens, I calculated that I harvested a total of 7.7 kg from the six plants in the Extensive
Garden, or just over 3 kg/m2. The Intensive Garden produced 4.8 kg from
the seven cauliflower plants, after the one mouldy head was thrown out. But the area that it was grown in was smaller
than in the Extensive Garden, so the kg/m2 yield was almost the same. The No-Dig Garden produced 3.2 kg from six
cauliflower plants, or perhaps a little bit more than 4 kg if you include the two plants
that I had abandoned. But this was spread over a larger area, than
even in the Extensive Garden, so the edible yield ended up being as low as 1.3 kg/m2. The Polytunnel Garden was definitely the star
in terms of yield, producing 7.5 kg from the 8 cauliflower plants. But with the plants spaced so close together,
this translated into an impressive 5.2 kg/m2, and that’s despite the overshadowing, the
competition, and the excessive heat. Looking at all the data, and how the plants
developed, there’s definitely room for improvement with all of these gardens. Making sure that there’s always enough soil
moisture will definitely help, especially in the Intensive and Polytunnel Gardens, where
there’s a much closer spacing of plants. The soil amendments that I’m planning to
add to the Extensive Garden should help a bit, more compost will definitely improve
things in the Intensive Garden, and the No-Dig Garden will definitely produce more if I forget
about adding any more apple pulp. Sowing cauliflower a bit earlier in the Polytunnel
will help to avoid some of the heat, and reduce the impact of competition from other plants
later in the season, and I’ll definitely be careful about intercropping in the future. Out of all of this, I think that the Extensive
Garden was probably the most successful this season. The heads were clean, dense, with a good yield,
though perhaps a bit too big for some people, and it used less fertility. But more importantly, I was surprised at how
good the cauliflower from this garden tasted, which is possibly the most important quality,
and this was confirmed in a taste test that I organised while teaching a permaculture
course. All 17 participants agreed that the cauliflower
from the Extensive Garden was definitely the tastiest, describing it as having a full,
rich, sweet flavour, without being too bitter, and this was even though some of them were
initially put off by the yellowish colour. Most people expected the beautiful white cauliflower
from the polytunnel garden to taste best, but were disappointed that it was bland in
comparison. The cauliflower from the other two gardens
were fine, but not as good as the Extensive Garden. Of course this small sampling is not definitive,
and next season the results could be very different, but it seems to reinforce the recommendations
of Steve Solomon, on whose work the Extensive Garden is based, that it’s better to give
plants lots of space, especially if you don’t think there’s going to be enough rainfall
or watering. This season, the Extensive approach seems
to have paid off in terms of taste, yield and quality, and that’s without having adequately
remineralising the soil of this garden yet. It will be very interesting to see just how
good the taste and yield could get.

46 Comments

  1. The apple mulch looks like a thick carpet blocking out air and may be causing noxious anaerobic conditions beneath it. Reminded me of too much grass clippings going into the compost pile.

  2. RED no disrespect, but your scientific research approach is WRONG 🙂
    You have no CONTROLLED VARIABLE.

    You've tested/compared the various gardening approach against each other, yet all your soil are different from one another. A proper scientific research approach would have a "controlled variable". And in this case you can use the soil and watering as your CONTROLLED VARIABLE.

    Example: 4 exactly same bed; same amount of the same compost and amendments + same amount of watering.
    EG: 4m (l) x 1m (w) x 60cm (d) = 4 beds >>>> same compost and amendments. 1 bed as no dig, 1 bed as intensive, 1 bed as extensive and 1 bed in Polytunnel.

  3. Ahhaa – the plot thickens then. Flavour or appearance? Flavour wins out, as it probably should.. Great video again. And, yep, that apple pulp maybe should have been composted first by lacing it throughout your other compost heap!! I'm just loving your work – the best on YouTube.

  4. I've had and are having all these problems too, you think it out away better than me, thanks for posting. -Thumbs up!

  5. Your scientific approach is admirable as always, and useful as I've been mulling over whether to grow brassicas next year.. something I've avoided because a) you have to eat the growing parts instead of the fruits; so spoilage is a much bigger issue and b) so many horror stories!

    The polytunnel cauliflower looks amazing!

  6. one of your best video. Pertinent information well explain to the point.
    Good video length and nice footage !

    Keep up like this, you deserve 100k subs

  7. Another great video. I don't I know of another grower channel where the empirical method is so well practiced (though Charles Dowding is also quite good). The yields/sq ft are an interesting comparison – I wonder how that analysis breaks down by hours spent tending, as you've done in the past. thanks.

  8. When did this fetish for pure white cauliflowers come in ? When I was a lad the ideal was for a cream coloured curd, both for looks and flavour. When I see a snow white curd I just think "intensively produced flavourless factory fodder".
    For once maybe I'm right.

  9. The extensive approach really seems to benefit the larger brassicas. I have noticed that with sprouting broccoli, if you give them lots of space and good nutrients, they won't even mind if it is a relatively young garden soil that was a piece of lawn just one year ago. Large brassicas as well as cucurbita (cucumber and zucchini) are huge space, nutrient and water hogs with ridiculously high demands per plant. The SUVs of the plant world if you will. I like your yield comparison videos, you have the necessary area to collect data and you do collect it well. We need more of this. I am going to grow some vegetables more extensively next season.

  10. The little boy in me says, "No matter what, it's still cauliflower!" That veg is one I will eat when it is presented, but I will not buy it and take it home, like the girl you don't want you mother to meet! I prefer broccoli. I like the idea of trying to infill the garden to get more yield, but I have learned to give plants more room. And I am not feeding a family, just lonely ol' me, and I share with some people too. There is a bike shop next door, and select customers get to take things home, like hot peppers, or hopefully, zucchini! I killed off a zuke this morning, cutting the stem very close to where it disappears into the ground, right next to another plant's stem. Uprooting it would have disturbed the roots of the remaining plant, so now I will see if the second one survives the probable deterioration of the dying root. I will chronicle the result in my journal. And I have found that if the zuke is very small, 5 inches long (13 cm) maybe, that I can eat it raw with no weird sticky taste, so I will start snacking right in the garden! I have learned so far that after kohlrabi reaches a certain size its skin just thickens and you don't seem to get much more "meat". And so far, the bigger the beet, the better! I love your thoughtful videos. I share them with my super-gardening nephew in California. He also grows oyster mushrooms commercially. I used to take him hunting for them when he was a boy, and botanize with him. And now he has a degree in horticulture and grows stuff. It just stuns me, if you share your knowledge and passions with young people, it just may rub off!

  11. Hi Bruce, Another very interesting video. I was a bit surprised to see what happened to the apple pulp, but thinking about it, perhaps shouldn't be. I used to live fairly near to where lots of brewing took place and you could get the spent hops, they were fine – but I used to dig then! With my current no dig regime, I too would have leaped at the apple mush as it first appeared. But the slimy stuff after winter looked not too nice, like un composted wet grass clippings. Definitely one for a coomposting regime, and not direct application.
    But caulis can be a tricky crop, hating a check. We have large fields of them round here, and in a not so good year, they often just get ploughed in – not even good enough for a bit of gleaning.
    Just looking up the national lies service – hoping to read they had arrested that noxious BJ person, I stumbles upon https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/10/paradise-lost-what-happened-to-irelands-model-eco-village and thought immediately of you. And there you were. Congratulations on your fame, hope it brings yet more success.
    Thanks for the videos and insights.

  12. I have never been able to grow cauliflower successfully. It would be better to male apple jelly,apple wine or vinegar with the apple skins. It is not good to use such an abundance of skins in your compost. They ferment and turn acidic.

  13. Make a small worm bed and feed them with apple waste and vegetable scraps. Much less work than normal composting.

  14. Just discovered your channel today, love it, love the comparison, and had never heard of Steve Solomon.
    Thank you for so many inputs and feedback on your experiences, this is so valuable !
    Rare work up on Youtube, this is very precious !
    Keep up the good work 🙂

  15. Hey, great job on your videos! Really inspiring. I've always had great results with intercropping rockets with cauliflower. I think it's all about the timing indeed, like you mentioned. Personally, I plant 5cm tall rocket seedlings (15 days old here in Brazil) with 8 – 10cm tall cauliflower seedlings (21 – 30 days old), and then make sure I harvest the rockets 28 days after planting in the field, maximum! The rockets give just an amazing soil covering for the developing cauliflower plants.

    Once again, great video, great insights into soil preparation and cauliflower production. Cheers!

  16. the apple pulp rehydrated and became goey and wet claylike. maybe if it was mixed with wood chips or hay and dirt it would fragment and compost better. or maybe dry it and burn it to use the ash as compost.

  17. Alkaline soils are not good for phosphate uptake which is probably why you had signs of deficiency. The other problem can be iron deficiency because high calcium levels lock up the iron in the soils. It's very complicated isn't it! Try to keep the soil on or a little below 7.0 on the pH scale for the best nutrient availability to the plants.

  18. i avoid lots of mistakes since you already made them i like the way you show what not to do instead of saying do this or do that and explaining why

  19. 1 John 2: 15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

  20. do you bottom prune older leaves?
    you use large soil blocks for starts, which usually ends up growing bigger starts over longer time, which also tend to get held back by transplants.
    i think you would benefit using shorter cycles for starts, in a number of ways

  21. Too many apples definitely leave the soil acidic in my experience when left alone takes a couple years to buffer out. I put out big piles for deer to help them through winter it usually burns the area but thousands of seedlings come up from the apples. It might be ok for blueberries. Love your work.

  22. really informative had problems growing cauliflowers for a number of years now. lots for me to think about and try. many thanks and keep it up.

  23. Your intro lends you loads of credibility.
    Thanks for this one too. I've grown enough mediocre cauliflower that I stopped growing it a few years ago. You've just inspired me to give it another shot.

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