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Gaddesden Estate News December/January 2021/22

As reported last month, our oat seed was held up by processing and haulage issues, but did at last arrive just in time for autumn sowing.  Although rather later than ideal, it has gone in the grown and is now beginning to emerge.  The stand looks to be a little uneven as germination has been poor in the wetter areas, but overall we hope it will do well.  As they say, it won’t grow in the bag, so having it planted meant that for the first time in a couple of years everything that we hoped to plant in the autumn has gone in as planned.

We will shortly have a decision to make about our oilseed rape.  The poor fortunes of this crop have been well publicised in recent years, and we only have a small area of it this year.  The fundamental problem is that everything likes eating it, in particular the cabbage stem flea beetle.  We have taken the approach that we will plant some home saved seed this year (rather than buying expensive new seed), and then turn our back on it, and see if it comes to anything.  We are now at decision time where we need to judge whether we have enough plants to take it to harvest, in which case the spending on the crop begins, with selective herbicides, fungicide and fertilizer.  It is a very expensive crop to grow, so we need to get it right.  Gut feeling at this stage is that there are not enough plants, and they are not strong enough going into the winter.  If this turns out to be the case we will plant barley in the spring, which will be destined for malting for beer. 

The last few weeks have seen quite a few lorries leave the farm, going to various homes – wheat for Weetabix, barley for beer, and some (rather disappointing) oats going off to be made into turkey feed in the run up to Christmas.
Like may people we were very interested to follow the discussions at COP 26, particularly as land use plays such an important part in the life of the planet.

As I have referred to on several occasions, our approach to land management has been constantly evolving, on the agriculture and forestry sides as well as building management.

On the farm side we ceased ploughing some 20 years ago, both to mitigate the loss of carbon to the atmosphere and to encourage soil structure and soil biodiversity, particularly earthworms. Following on from this we are putting about a quarter of the farm into organic conversion and moving towards regenerative agriculture, which includes, is we said last month drilling wheat directly into a clover ley, which will not only provide a “living mulch” but also fix nitrogen into the soil. Overall this should lead to a reduced use of diesel fuel. We have also reduced the arable area in particular returning Gaddesden Park entirely to pasture.

Turning to woodland, we began planting new woods at the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, and have continued to do so under various Forestry Commission schemes ever since.  You can be assured that there will be more tree planting to come!
Finally, ( although it seems strange to write this in November), we wish all in Great Gaddesden a Happy Christmas and best wishes for the new year.