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Gaddesden Estate News June 2019

I ought to begin this month’s report by giving apologies for not writing in the Newsletter for both April and May this year.
As usual I start with farming, looking first at the arable side. This year our spring cropping is divided between Barley, Planet, and Linseed, Marquise. Linseed has not been grown on the farm for 20 years or so, and we look forward to its beautiful purple flowers, which will be great for the bees.  The plants are very small at the moment and are being badly eaten by flax flea beetle.  We are though trying not to use any insecticides on the farm and hope that with some warmth it will recover. 

The barley is grown for malting and we hope will be good enough quality to be used by brewers or distillers to produce beer and whisky. One of the fields, which is called “Long Robins” is now in its third year as an experiment in “No Till”, i.e. sowing straight into the soil without ploughing or cultivating, as opposed to the rest of the land which is “Min Till”, minimum tillage, still no ploughing, but with some cultivations. We are delighted with the number of earthworms these systems encourage, which do much of our cultivation for us, as they burrow into the soil and digest the surface residue.  No Till also has the twin benefits of greatly reducing fuel usage in planting the crop and preserving carbon in the soil as organic matter.  Cultivation, and in particular ploughing, brings air into the soil and over time tends to reduce the organic matter as the carbon is lost to the atmosphere through oxidation.

As a slight caveat on the carbon friendly methods of husbandry is that these rely on good weed control following the previous crop. This entails the weed-killer glyphosate, often known as “Roundup”, which has been much in the news recently.  Were this ever to be banned, as some authorities have proposed, carbon friendly arable farming would become well-nigh impossible and we would revert to traditional ploughing and cultivations.

The winter crops are as usual wheat, of which we are growing two varieties called JB Diego and, Graham.  They have a variety of uses, but may well end up as Weetabix, as did much of last year’s wheat crop.  The Oilseed Rape, Extrovert, is just finishing flowering and is “podding up” nicely.  The crushed seeds of this member of the cabbage or brassica family are used as a lubricant or in cooking, for example in mayonnaise.

It is essential that all conventionally grown crops are fed with the right nutrients and protected from pests and diseases and this means a very busy time for farmers, particularly in springtime and early summer.
With the changes brought about by the new Agriculture Bill and Brexit we are tentatively looking at organic systems. I last investigated this in the early 1990s, but at the time did not believe it would be suitable, though much has changed since then.

A reminder to all walkers in High Park Wood and the Water End Meadows that in June we will be harvesting ash trees from High Park Wood. The timber will be hauled from the wood, along the fence in the Water Park Meadow, to a stacking area by the gate on “The Lady’s Mile” (Nettleden Road), ready to be transferred to lorries. Signs will be erected to warn people of forestry operations.
Incidentally the word “Park” in both the names of the wood and the meadow is because they were once part of a mediaeval deer park.
The trees we “beat up” in Big Wood, that is replacing those which had failed last year, mostly Douglas Fir, came from 100 or so we grew from seed in the greenhouse and the kitchen garden at the Golden Parsonage. So far, they seem to be happy.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting an estate in Suffolk which practices a system of growing high-quality oak in around 100 years, developed in France, by carefully selecting the seed stock, often from Holland or Denmark. Then it is planted at 1m x 1.5m spacing, mainly pure oak (not usually a mixture). The “winning” trees are selected at an early age and then the trees surrounding them are regularly removed, allowing the crowns to develop, without touching any other trees. The trees are high pruned as necessary. From what readers will remember from previous comments, this system is dependent on control of deer and grey squirrels!

Oak for Notre Dame
After the disastrous fire in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, Historic Houses put out an appeal for members to donate an oak tree for the rebuilding of the roof. Surprisingly it is unlikely that there are enough suitable oaks in France. We have offered a tree, though whether it will be needed, having seen some of the futuristic designs suggested, is uncertain.
Waste of the Manor
The Manor of Great Gaddesden, in the sense of “Lordship of the Manor” was acquired by Sir Walter Halsey from Earl Brownlow’s Ashridge Estate in 1928, when that estate was broken up to pay Death Duties. Sir Walter’s family had already held the Manor of Hemel Hempstead, including Bovingdon and Flaunden, since the early 1700s. In practice today all that remains is the Waste of the Manors, being much of the roadside verges in Gaddesden Row, Bradden Lane and Ballingdon Bottom and part of Water End Moor.

Estate maintenance
Property maintenance is a perennial task, always getting busier in the summer months. So far this year we have installed one new central heating boiler and we are now looking at upgrading some of the oil tanks. We are continuing the programme to install double glazed windows where appropriate and external redecoration is proceeding apace.

A great excitement has been the re-building of the 12 ft garden wall at eighteenth century Gaddesden Place Stables. This was built by the architect of Gaddesden Place, James Wyatt. This wall fell over several years ago, possibly due to ground subsidence. We saved the bricks on pallets at the Home Farm and have been planning to rebuild the wall for some time and are using lime mortar as it our forebears did.
The cleaning and servicing of gutters around the estate is an important annual job; we have installed new extruded aluminium gutters on the Atcost building at the Home Farm, formerly used as a cubicle house for the dairy herd, as well as replacing several corrugated roof panels. A less pleasant task has been the investigation of faulty drains at various properties, including Gaddesden Row School!

Horse Enterprise
Horses continue to play an important part in the estate business. The ride has had its annual survey and jump repair and new jumps have been introduced; as always though, there is more ongoing work to do.
If you are a member of the Gaddesden Estate Ride, remember that annual renewal is in June.

The monthly Park and Rides are continuing for this year each month, though their future is dependent on take-up. Bookings, as usual are through the Equo website: