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Gaddesden Estate Parish News October 2022

The new year begins immediately after harvest is finished, and sometimes before that if there are late crops to bring in. We have now had a nice bit of rain and everything is greening up, but it wasn’t long ago that all the grass was brown and the ground like concrete. 

In late August, with the prospect of the first rain in months on the forecast, we took the decision to sow some oilseed rape, for the first time in a few years.  This has gone onto the fields north of Gaddesden Row, which have historically been our best fields for growing OSR.  We planted, and then rain came, but with it came the slugs, which must have been hiding deep in cracks in the soil. At the time of writing the fields are being monitored every day for damage, but we hope that with warm soils and a bit of moisture the plants that have survived will soon be past the danger, and will enable us to have a decent stand going into the winter.  One of the issues with oilseed rape is the fact that everything likes to eat it – slugs, cabbage stem flea beetles, pigeons, pheasants, deer and so on, making growing it a rather stressful exercise! 

Ground going into winter wheat has all been cultivated ready for planting in early October.  The aim here is to grow some weeds and some volunteers (seed shed by the previous crop), and then to kill these prior to planting. 

On our organic ground we have had to resort to ploughing in the grass and clover, as our previous attempts to kill it by cultivating did not yield good enough results.  It is the first time that any fields have been ploughed on the farm for over twenty years, and it must be said that the soil has been coming up in beautiful condition and full of worms.  Ploughing is very expensive as it is a slow process that generally then takes subsequent operations to produce a seedbed.  However, in organic farming the burying of weeds that ploughing can achieve is invaluable, and whilst we had hoped to get away without ploughing, in this instance we have had no choice.  Without it, our first crop of organic wheat would have been choked by the grass.  Most of it is being done with a newly acquired (though rather old) Kvernland 5 furrow reversable plough behind our John Deere 6900 tractor (combined age of c50 yrs), although a small area in Cherry Tree field was done by our vintage Fordson Dexta and 1950’s Fergusson two furrow plough (combined age c120yrs) which brought back many memories.

We are also growing 30ha of wheat for a company called Wildfarmed, whose aim is to produce really excellent bread from a blend of heritage wheat varieties.  This will be sown in a mixture with beans, and will result in a much more biodiverse field than a straight monoculture of modern wheat.  This diversity then feeds through into the quality of the flour.  Although not certified organic, these fields will be grown effectively in an organic way, and as such will have no sprays.  We can however apply some nutrition to the crop if tissue testing of the growing plants shows some nutrient deficiency.    
Park and Ride
After having to cancel rides during the summer because of the rock hard conditions, it was lovely to be able to hold the September Charity Ride in aid of the Gaddesden Place RDA.  The sun shone and feedback from all riders has been positive, and we raise a total of £1,500 for the Riding for the Disabled.