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Gaddesden Estate News June 2021

The seasons continue to progress, though today, 21st May seems more like November!

The crops are growing and mostly reasonable, though it certainly won’t be a bumper harvest this year. The surviving winter wheat looks satisfactory, as do the spring oats which have come well through the very dry period after sowing.  The spring wheat and barley which we drilled where the winter failed are generally looking OK though rather thin in places. The linseed has some catching up to do. The next time I write we will be looking forward to harvest.

We are experimenting with trying to plant white clover to grow as a permanent understorey below some of the spring crops, and this has involved spinning on the seed into the existing crop of oats or barley and harrowing it in lightly.  The plan is for subsequent years’ crops to be planted into the existing clover, which could have numerous benefits including a reduction in fertilizer use, increased soil biology, carbon sequestration, weed control and of course food for pollinators.  Fingers crossed that it works, and it is interesting to note that where we have done this, the oats and barley have generally responded very well to the harrowing (which can look a bit extreme at the time) by growing like mad to compensate for the disturbance.  As they say, “there’s nothing new in farming”, and harrowing crops used to be a standard method of weed control before the advent of selective herbicides.  It certainly felt like stepping back in time as we did this on our smallest and lightest tractor, which doesn’t have a cab, so as to minimize damage to the crop.   

Readers may have noticed the number of livestock around on the Home Farm this year, with the best part of 2,000 sheep, ewes and lambs, grazing our Organic Conversion fields and a bunch of Longhorn heifers on the Water End Meadows, currently on the block formerly know as Water Park Meadow adjoining the Ladies’ Mile.  The grass and clovers in the organic block are now growing very well now that the April frosts are passed, and the ewes and lambs are enjoying a feast.  The red clover and crimson clovers in particular are looking spectacular, and a sight not seen on the farm for many years.    
NoMowMay.  Wherever possible we have been leaving grass areas rough and un-mown to provide food for pollinators and birds.  This has resulted in a wonderful crop of dandelions around the Golden Parsonage (could this be another reason for its name, aside from the usual story about the yellow daffodils, I wonder).   This is a great initiative, and just goes to show that “weeds” can have huge wildlife benefits.  
We had a very successful first park and ride day of the summer.  It decided not to rain that day for once, and thanks to the excellent marshalling from the kind volunteers from the Gaddesden Place RDA, a record number of people were able to celebrate the end of lockdown and enjoy a lovely day out on the estate.  The dates for the rest of the summer are 4th July, 8th August, and then 12th Sept for the Charity ride in aid of the RDA.  

We have been doing the usual round of repairs to jumps and have for the first time put in a series of small jumps for children and ponies – though obviously anyone can hop over them too!
Old Photographs
We were contacted recently by Nigel Holly, whom some may remember used to work on the Home Farm in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has very kindly sent us a portfolio of photographs showing many aspects of the farm, field work and cultivations, including milking the dairy cows.  It is a wonderful record, and we hope to be able to put up a few of these on facebook or the website in due course.   
Avril Burns
Many people will know Avril who will be finally retiring after 33 years. She originally came to the Farm to help with the seminar business we established in the 1980s and over the years progressed to being farm secretary, PA and to managing all our book-keeping and accounts. Several years ago, she reduced her time to one day a week, but for the end of June this year she will finally leave. She has been a friend to many members of staff, tenants, and the Halsey family. We will be eternally grateful and will miss her. We wish her all the best for her retirement.