Latest News

Gaddesden Estate Parish News May 2024

May has at last brought with it some sunshine, and the crops are looking all the happier for it!  Since I last wrote all the crops have now been planted, and attention turned to the business of weed and disease control.  The conventional wheat has had its first fungicide spray to ward off diseases, in particular yellow rust and septoria.  Both of these diseases attack the green leaf, reducing the area available to photosynthesise.  There was a time when it would also have had an earlier spray as a matter of routine, but a combination of a lower-input approach, and the breeding of more disease resistant varieties is reducing our reliance on artificial inputs.  In what is otherwise a year with relatively high disease pressure the crops have remained fairly clean, and this is of course good news all round. 

The oilseed-rape has just about finished flowering, having been yellow for the best part of two months.  Prolonged flowering is good in that the more flowers there are, the more pods there will be, and the more food there will be for the pollinators.  It is also a bad thing, though, as it can increase the disease pressure – there is a very pernicious fungal pathogen called sclerotinia stem rot, which is caused by petals falling and lodging on the plants in damp and humid conditions.  We have sprayed for it, but no more so than would be normal, and we hope that the longer flowering doesn’t present any issues.  Overall though the crop looks reasonable. 

The organic and Wildfarmed crops, where no spraying is allowed, have been weeded with our 12 metre wide Einbock tined weeder.  This is a light harrow, which has 480 spring loaded tines across its width, and predominantly pulls out annual broadleaved weeds, such as cleavers, mayweed and groundsel.  It also has the effect of perking up the crop, and can be a really useful tool in thickening up crops that are looking a bit sad.  It works by stressing the plant, which then responds vigorously to what it sees is a form of attack, as well as mineralising a bit of nitrogen in the soil and making it available to the plants.  It is fairly nerve-wracking operation for the tractor driver however, as the field looks like it’s turning brown and you are killing the crop.  The basic advice is set the machine up to be as aggressive as you dare, then turn it up one notch and don’t look behind you!  

May is also the time when we plant the environmental plots, and this year we have been planting more winter bird seed areas, and some nectar flower areas.  We have also take the opportunity to fill in a few gaps where the very wet winter has meant that some areas with poor drainage have seen crop failures.  The result of this is a patchwork of different crops in the same field, the most extreme version of this is in West Well, which is to the east of the footpath running between the Crown and Sceptre and Gaddesden Row.  It was planted originally with oilseed rape in August.  The OSR failed on some of the headlands, and these were planted with beans in October.  Some of the beans survived the winter, and are now flowering beautifully.  Other areas didn’t survive, and the largest one of these was planted with spring barley in April.  Some of the smaller areas of the bean failures have since been planted with a mix of linseed an clover, although these will not produce a harvestable crop.  The end result of this will be seven crops growing in the one field, if you include the maize cover crop and the area of winter bird food, and a prolonged flowering period to keep the bees happy.  It is certainly one of the positives of crop failures, if a little management-intensive!

This month has also seen one of the more-difficult management decisions relating to one of our environmental plots.  The crop that we have to sow is called a two year legume fallow – basically a mix of gasses and legumes such as clovers and vetches.  It has the aim of increasing soil fertility and smothering blackgrass, and has strict rules as to how it is managed.  The problem is that it doesn’t smother the blackgrass (we have since learnt), which still needs controlling to prevent what would otherwise be catastrophic levels of seed return.  Our only option is to flail it off before the blackgrass seed becomes viable, as both grazing and taking forage off it are prohibited.  This seems like madness to us, and a tremendous waste of time and diesel.  Some cows would do the same job, with a much lower environmental impact, but for reasons only known to DEFRA this is prohibited.  In order to mitigate the impact on the wildlife which has been enjoying it, we have been flailing it in stages, to allow the pollinators to migrate to other areas of the farm. 

Speaking of cows, this month has seen the arrival of a few Dexter cattle onto the farm, which are grazing the parkland round the Golden Parsonage.  These are a small “dual purpose” breed, meaning they can be used for both beef and milking, and their arrival has caused much entertainment all round.  The most interesting aspect of this has been the arrival of an unexpected calf from a young heifer, who not only should have been physically impossible to calve given her youth, but also, unbeknownst to us, had been given the cow equivalent of the pill to make sure of it.  Anyway, two weeks after they came here a tiny calf, now named “Nettle Dandy” arrived safe and sound, and after some early dramas is now doing well.  Significantly smaller than a labrador, he looks very sweet, and is now charging around happily.
Away from the farm I have been up to Wildfarmed’s head office in London, as one of their longer standing growers, to discuss our end of their supply chain.  Very excitingly they are now in Waitrose, having had a big launch this month.  I tried to buy some of this home grown break in Berkhamsted a few days in, only to find it sold out, which is good news in a way!
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News April 2024

Whilst it is a fairly mundane topic, it is difficult to write this without spending some time talking about the weather!  Thankfully, as I write this spring appears to have sprung, or at least there are intermittent days of sunshine between the seemingly endless rain.

As always, it has been a busy time for preparing ground for planting the spring-sown crops, although this year, the fickle weather has meant that there have been very short windows to get work done.  This has been especially challenging where the ground has been saturated over the winter.  For example a break in the weather would allow some ground to be prepared for planting, but then before planting could happen there would be another downpour, taking everything back almost to square one.  The volume and intensity of the rain has meant that preparation work has been essential to get air into the soil, as even where we have grown cover crops over the winter, the amount of water in the soil would make it either impossible to plant, or greatly increase the risk of crop failure.

Anyway, these frustrations aside, it is lovely to see the hedgerows coming out, the daffodils in full bloom and the bluebells now out in the woods.

Our conventional winter wheat has received its first doses of fertiliser, and aside from some waterlogged patches, generally looks in reasonable shape.  There is some disease present, but the plants are largely healthy.  It continues to remain noticeable that the wheat following the diverse cover crop that was sown last summer has stronger plants than that which followed the oilseed rape.  Topography will play a part in this, as the flat fields along Gaddesden Row have sat wet all winter, but still it is no coincidence that the resting, the diversity, and the soil conditioning brought about by the cover crop have led to a stronger stand of wheat.  Integrating this into viable crop rotations over the longer term is difficult however, but something we continue to explore.

The oilseed rape to the East of red lion lane is now fully in flower.  It is always something of a relief when it gets to this stage as, for the most part, it means that the crop has got past the stage of being eaten by every bit of wildlife for whom it seems to be something of a delicacy.  This has had all of its fertiliser, and just needs one spray to protect from viral disease before harvesting at the end of July.

The Wildfarmed wheat and bean bi-crop behind the Old Chequers as rather perked up since I last wrote.   Of the 37 hectares (91 acres) that we planted, I had initially written off all of it, but in the end decided to keep about 17 ha, on the basis that whilst not great, it would probably be better than any spring crop we would manage to plant.  The failed area is now planted with barley for malting and making beer, and so I’ll be able to have a direct comparison to see which one does best. 

This barley is also to be grown for Wildfarmed, to be made into their craft beer called “Regenerator”.  Again, like the wheat, it will be “companion cropped”, that is to say grown with another crop in the same field.  The inclination is for this to be linseed because of its excellent soil conditioning properties.  There is a risk, however, that when it comes to harvest, unripe linseed in the bottom of the crop will tangle up the combine and make harvest very difficult.  If I knew it would be a baking hot summer I wouldn’t be concerned, but right now it feels like something of a gamble.  Worse case scenario would be if the barley fell over, or “lodged”, and then flat barley was mixed with un-ripe linseed, the stems of which are extremely tough, being what ropes were made of in the past.  Any planting of the linseed will be imminent, so I will have more of an update the next month, by which time I will have made up my mind.
Our organic crop this spring is oats, and these have had a shaky start – some looks good, but we have had to re-drill some parts because of not achieving good enough weed control before planting.  As with the conventional ground, the soil has needed conditioning before planting, with the added pressure of killing the weeds that of course we cannot spray.  As I write we have about 10ha (25 acres) left to plant, but hope to do this in the next few days.   
Estate Management
We are planning some tree works in Big Wood for later in the summer.  This is largely to address roadside trees, in particular Ash trees which are suffering from Ash Dieback.  As the disease takes hold these trees may pose a risk to the road, and it is therefore important that they are dealt with.  All felling will be followed by re-planting of new trees next winter.  Some of the felling work will require a managed road closure of Red Lion Lane, and more details of this will be available in due course, once all the required permits are in place. 
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News February 2024
The snowdrops are out and the daffodils are poking through.  As I write, it feels like spring is on the way, with the sunshine beginning to have some proper warmth in it.

At the end of January and the beginning of February the ground was beginning to dry up and thoughts were turning to the planting of spring corn.  The following two weeks though have put paid to any such ambitions, with a vast amount of rain arriving to take us back to square one, or in some cases probably square minus one.  We have seen water standing where it hasn’t been seen before, and even coming out the ground from long-forgotten drains which have been overflowing.  It will come right in the end, it usually does, but in the meantime any thoughts of getting an early sown spring crop in the ground are well and truly put to bed.  At this rate it feels like it will be well into March before we are able to make much progress. 

In some ways this is a good thing – a poorly sown spring crop doesn’t give you any second chances, and it’s best to get it right.  With the extremes of weather that we seem to have now, it is the conditions immediately after planting that are as important as those before it – oh to be able to predict the future!

Despite the recent wet, we have managed to apply the first dose of fertiliser to the oilseed rape, which is generally the first crop to get going in the spring, and thus the first to need feeding.  In the main this looks well, and is showing definite signs of growth.  

Our experimental planting of the oilseed rape this year though has yielded what seems to be an interesting result.  We planted it back in august with some linseed at the same time.   The linseed was a variety that is usually sown in the spring for harvest that year, whilst of course the oilseed rape is sown in august and harvested the following July.  The idea behind this was to provide greater biodiversity within the field through the autumn and winter, to aid conditioning, and to confuse the pests.  So far the latter seems to be working.  Many will know that oilseed rape is a cousin of the cabbage, and it generally spends its winter rather low to the ground.  This, combined with the palatability of its leaves makes it very attractive to the pigeons, particularly here where there are woods next to every field for the pigeons to sit in.  The linseed, though is a taller and straighter plant, at least in this context, with an upright stem.  Over the winter it has been standing up a good foot taller than the oilseed rape it has been planted with.  So far, this has proved very effective at keeping the pigeons from landing in it, as they hate having wet feathers, and as such has shielded the OSR from damage.  So far it has made for a much less stressful winter, which can often be spent in a seemingly endless round of chasing the pigeons off the crop.  I’m sure it won’t last, as the linseed is now beginning to die back, but in the meantime it has proven rather successful, and a good win for alternative farming methods, if not for the pigeons…

Back at the yard the seed and fertiliser has been arriving for the spring campaign.  We will be growing both barley and oats this year.  The barley will be a mix of conventionally grown and “Wildfarmed”, whilst the oats will be organic.  This will be the first time we have grown them this way.  It will be very interesting to see how they do, and we hope for a few bowls of organic porridge in due course!  Last years organic straw has now all gone on its journey to an organic mushroom grower in Staffordshire, and there has been much sweeping up of the yard and sheds after loading the lorries.  No matter how much care is taken, there always seems to be a bit of straw blowing around for a week or two afterwards.  
Estate work
We have been busy on winter repair and building refurbishment projects whilst the farm has been quiet, together with the usual round of maintenance jobs.  As the weather improves and this year’s external decoration projects kick off, this too will get busier.       
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News January 2024
The winter months are typically quiet on the arable side.  This year is no different, although the incessant rain has made looking at crops and making decisions about spring work a rather depressing exercise at times.

As I mentioned in the last article, those crops which were growing well before the rains came look reasonable, and this remains the case today.  The later drilled crops, however, have in some cases suffered badly.  I have just taken the decision that 40 hectares (100 acres) of wheat and beans planted for Wildfarmed will not make a viable crop. 

Once planted, this crop is theoretically cheap to grow, as it is allowed no synthetic inputs aside from a little bit of fertiliser (about 30% of what we would normally apply to a breadmaking wheat crop).  That said, there are costs associated with weeding it mechanically and harvesting it of course.  I have just been out calculating average plant counts, and the better of the two fields has, on average, 107 plants per square metre.  This is less than half what one would need for an ordinary wheat crop, and probably less than 35% of ideal for a crop of heritage varieties such as this.   The reason that the heritage crops need more plants is that they do not “tiller” nearly so much as modern varieties, meaning that every plant will produce fewer heads of grain compared to a modern plant.  When this is combined with the opportunity cost of not growing a good spring crop, the viability becomes even more compromised.  At the moment we are weighing up whether to grow a spring planted wheat instead, which always yields less, or a spring planted barley grown for beer making, which if the stars align can be reasonably profitable but for which the market this year may be over supplied.

Back in the yard we have acquired a couple of pieces of second hand grain cleaning equipment, which will hopefully allow greater flexibility in what we grow and in particular will help clean our organic seed to a higher specification.  One is a sieved cleaner, rather like our recently recommissioned seed dresser from the 1960s, though with about five times the capacity in terms of throughput.  The principles are exactly the same, with a combination of sieves and fans to remove weed seeds and chaff.

The other items is knowns as a gravity separator.  This operates on a different principle to a sieved cleaner, and allows the separation of particles that are the same size, but different density.  It has a bed of very fine mesh which vibrates rapidly.  Air is sucked though this mesh which is within a pressure controlled cabinet, as the crop is poured on it.  This air, together with the vibration, “fluidises” the crop, which then behaves like a liquid.  The vibrating bed is adjustably tilted on two planes, and the result is that denser particles move in one direction and are taken off on one side, and lighter particles the other.   It's all very clever (and looks a bit like a space ship (see picture)….) and I have not got it rigged up yet, but the plan is that it will allow us to remove weed seeds from organic crops that are the same size as the crop seeds and cannot be removed by sieving.

In other news we have just sold some organic straw to an organic mushroom grower in the midlands.  The use of the organic straw obviously removes the risk of contamination from any chemical residues that may otherwise be present, and we will shortly be loading it onto lorries. 

Each bale weights in the region of 500 kgs, which is a far cry from the small bales which used to be man-handled on the farm in years gone by.

On the wider estate we continue with the usual winter work, which includes the of cleaning fallen trees.  One of these landed square on a newly installed gate in some deer fencing that surrounded new tree planting in New Gorse.  In a piece of fairly spectacular “sods law”, it was the only mature tree of any size nearby, and it fell perfectly through the middle of the gate, completely smashing it to pieces.  The only upside is that at least we’ll get a good bit of firewood out of it!   
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News October 2023
As I write this Storm Babet has arrived in style, bringing with it 50mm of rain so far and an end to the relatively dry early autumn.  Thankfully we finished planting just as the heavens opened, though we now wait anxiously to see what effect the deluge has had on the seed. 

First to be planted was the wheat along Gaddesden Row and around Upperwood Farm.  This went in in good conditions and is now mainly up and visible “in the row”.  As it had a decent head start on the weather it is much less vulnerable to the wet than later plantings, and so far continues to look good.

Next to go were fields behind Bridens Camp and down to the Red Lion, and the three fields opposite the Garden Centre and behind Gade Valley Cottages.  These have all been planted with wheat, again in good conditions.  The arrival of the storm however has prevented us from applying a pre-emergent herbicide to control weeds, and it may be that we will now be chasing weed control for the remainder of the year. 

All of these conventional wheat crops have been planted with a variety called Dawsum, which is a low grade milling wheat with excellent disease resistance.  We have saved the seed from last year, and have cleaned it prior to planting with our recommissioned 50+yr old grain cleaner. 

Sometimes known as a dresser, this machine carries out a variety of functions to improve the quality of the seed.  Firstly the seed is dropped into the top of it by an auger.  This stream of grain is then spread out over the width of the machine by a feed roller that prevents it all bunching up in one place.  Once the grain passes the roller, air is sucked though it, removing light particles, chaff, straw and weed seeds.  The grain then drops down onto a moving body that contains a number of progressively smaller sieves.  This whole body shakes back and forth all powered by an electric motor, with larger impurities coming off the top of the sieves first, and directed into a waste bin, cleaned seed coming out from the middle, and smaller impurities coming out from the layer of sieves below.  The final process is that air is again sucked though the cleaned grain to remove any light fragments and dust that have made it this far, and finally the cleaned grain drops out of the bottom.  It has taken a bit of carpentry, plenty of sticky belt dressing (to prevent ancient drive belts from slipping) and a bit of sweat, but the machine did successfully manage to clean all of our seed requirements this year, which was a good result.  There is also a healthy crop of weeds now growing in the yard, where the output from the fans blew the impurities, which is also a good sign!

The final wheat to be planted was the Wildfarmed, which has gone in to Elm Tree Park, behind the old Chequers, and Bingham’s Bottom (named after a former rector of the Parish, and the fact that runs down to the bottom of a hill, rather than any anatomical reference…)  As with this crop last year, this is a mixture of heritage wheat varieties that is grown alongside another crop in the same field, in this case beans.  With no spraying permitted, it was necessary to run in front of the seed drill with a light cultivator to try to kill weeds already growing.

Once this had been planted it was a mad dash to plant some beans in areas where the oilseed rape establishment had failed, before the arrival of the storm.  This is generally around the outside of the fields where the wildlife has eaten the emerging OSR plants.  Assuming these beans grow (never guaranteed…) there should be a feast for pollinators next spring and summer as these plants flower one after another. 

Back at the yard we have been busy loading lorries with this year’s harvest, and this morning saw the last load of beans go off to Ipswich docks and onto a boat bound for Egypt.  It also saw the penultimate load of organic wheat head off to Doves Farm foods, as well as some feed wheat off to a bio-ethanol plant in the midlands. 

With planting now completed, the next few months will see plenty of maintenance jobs and yard work, as well as slug patrol on the newly emerging wheat.  We have slug traps out in the fields and are monitoring these daily for signs of activity, which so far has been slight, though this may change with the arrival of the storm. 

In other news we have just taken delivery of half a tonne of bird seed for winter feeding, courtesy of the North Chilterns Farmer Cluster.  This will fed throughout the winter, both through designated feeders (basically an industrial scale bird table) and spread on the ground; different species have different feeding patterns, and a combination of the two should cover most bases.  The target species of these are predominantly the smaller farmland birds, and combined with our increased area of winter bird food plots should see plenty of nourishment available through the winter.   

We have also been planning our hedge planting programme with the Chilterns Conservation Board, and will be delivering about 1,150m over the next couple of years, replacing some hedges that were lost in the mid 20th century’s drive for more production, and using the 1837 tithe map for reference.  We have a target list of species to plant, which will include a mix of Hawthorn, Hazel, Field Maple, Mountain Ash, Hornbeam, Wayfaring Tree, Guelder Rose, Spindle and Wild Cherry. 
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News September 2023
Harvest is now over, and with it comes the start of the new farming year.  It is easy to think that the combine rolling into the field is the end of the process, and whilst of course it is the culmination of a year’s work, it also marks the beginning of the busy period of preparing ground and planting seeds ready for next year.   

When I last wrote we had not harvested any of our conventional wheat or our beans, and I’m pleased to say these are now all safely in shed.  The wheats came first, and were something of a mixed bag.  Where they followed linseed, the crop did well, yielding on a par with our long term average.  Where they followed oats they did a bit less well, and where they followed spring barley they were substantially poorer.  These results have highlighted the value of a wide crop rotation and allowing the soil to break the cycles of disease, weeds and nutrition requirements.  Diversity is always championed by nature, and it is no different here.  Planning crop rotations is though something of a dynamic jigsaw puzzle, and it just so happened that we did not have as much wheat after a true break crop as would have been ideal.   
Last to be combined were the beans.  It was, on the whole, not a good bean growing year anywhere in the county, and here was no different.  Yields were lower than expected, but quality was pleasingly high, and ours have made the grade for human consumption.  The main quality criteria are the number of holes bored into the beans by an insect called the Bruchid Beetle, and the extent of staining of the beans, which is caused by water damage to the pods towards the end of the plant’s life cycle.   We suffered very little bruchid damage despite not spraying any insecticide, and whist there was some staining, it was just below the threshold level.  As human consumption beans they will be loaded onto a boat within the next month, bound for North Africa, where they will be turned into falafel. 

Speaking of movement, some of the crops have already started to be loaded onto lorries and head off to the mills.  Our first loads of Organic wheat have now moved, which was an exciting moment, and we have just sold the remainder to one of the leading organic brands.
Whilst the combine was still rolling, we were busy planting crops for next year.  First to go in was a linseed- based cover crop into our Wildfarmed Fields.  These fields will be planted with spring barley next year for malting for beer, and in the meantime the linseed will condition the soil over winter, and all being well should produce some late flowers to keep the pollinators happy. 

Next to go in was some conventional oilseed rape.  This is a nervous moment as the plants are very vulnerable when small to being eaten by pretty much everything.  Whilst we have endured some losses, I’m hopeful that of the 60 hectares that we planted, the majority will make a crop, although it is still early days.

At the same time we were planting a fertility building grass ley on the fields around Hawbush Farm, south of Gaddesden Row.   We have decided to add these into our organic rotation, and this is the first stage of their conversion.  They will stay as grass and clover for two years, before being planted with wheat.  The mix of plants is designed to build fertility, smother weeds, and provide diverse and nutritious grazing.  

Many readers will I’m sure have noticed how well the summer cover crop has grown opposite the Red Lion and beside Ledgemore lane. The mix of colours with the yellow sunflowers, the blue linseed, the purple phacelia and the white buckwheat was fantastic.  It was alive with bees and insects and provided a wonderful food source for them.  This in turn has provided food right though the system, and it can be no co-incidence that the swallows and house martins have had a very successful breeding season.  We have seen groups of upwards of 100 perching together, and one pair of swallows at marsh farm has successfully reared three broods, with twelve chicks fledging.  I have also twice seen a pair of hobbies, the fastest and nimblest of the small falcons and the only bird capable of catching a swallow on the wing, so clearly there has been food in abundance all through the ecosystem.

As with all things there is an element of compromise however, and we have now had to remove the cover crop to get ready for planting wheat in the next few weeks.  We left the cover growing for as long as possible, right through the hot weeks at the beginning of September, but to leave any later risks substantial seed return, which we do not want, and also compromises our ability to sow the wheat.  One of the risks is that the abundance of rotting biomass will be a haven for slugs.  Where we have started to flail off the cover crop it is clear that it has done an excellent job at conditioning the soil, with the range of plant families and root architecture producing lovely friable conditions with lots of worms. 

Back at the yard we have started cleaning wheat seed ready for planting.  We have the seeds tested for germination, vigour and a range of diseases, and on all fronts the quality looks good.  Our ancient seed cleaner rescued from a demolished shed has been doing an excellent job, and we have taken it one further by cleaning the seed into mobile bins which I picked up from the sale of a dog food factory in Kettering, as one does.  Each re-usable bin holds one and a half tonnes of seed, and will be used to fill the seed drill (planter), thus eliminating the use of large woven plastic bags, which have been the standard method for many years.  One step further to reducing waste we hope, with the added bonus that they are also rodent proof! 
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News July/August 2023
The culmination of the farming year is upon us.  This harvest has been somewhat different to the intense heat and dry of last year, and as I write this we are only about half way through.  By this time last year we had been done and dusted for a couple of weeks. 

We started harvest on 28th July with the Oilseed Rape along Gaddesden Row.  This crop had looked well all year, and the majority of it did well.  However there were a couple of poor fields where the pigeons had attacked it over the winter, which brought the overall yield down below our long term average.  Overall it did about 3.2 tonnes per hectare, which is respectable if not exciting.  After drying, all of this has been moved from the farm into a merchants store, and we await the results of testing for the percentage of oil in the grain which determines its value, along with how clean and dry it is. 

Wet weather and high humidity makes it impossible to combine the crops, and so far it has been a case of snatching every available opportunity to get some done, before it rains again.  There is a compromise of course between waiting for the grain to dry after rain, and having enough time to get it harvested before the next band of rain makes it impossible. We are very lucky to have an excellent harvesting contractor who has the biggest combine you can get, and this means that we can make the most of every weather window when he is here.  The result though is that grain is often comes into the shed dry enough to go though the combine, but too wet to sell or store long term.  We then have to dry it, and so far this year the drying fans have been running constantly.

The next crop to go was our Organic wheat on 10th August, which was an exciting moment.  As our first organic crop it was difficult to know what to expect, but so far things seems to have gone well.  Yields were better than expected, at about 5.5 tonnes per ha, though this may have something to do with the fact that the fields we grew it on were the ones closest to the farm, and therefore generally the most fertile having received manure for generations from the days of having our own livestock.  Protein levels were low however, which is a trade off with higher yield, and we await the merchant’s view on the likely end market.

I had expected the stubbles to be green with weed growth after the combine had been through, and had planned to put sheep on them.  To my surprise they were in fact extremely clean, it was difficult to tell the difference between them and a conventional crop.  As a result we haven’t put sheep on them yet, but have lightly cultivated to help any shed seeds germinate, and help them green up over winter.   The clean stubbles enabled us to bale the straw, and for the first time in years the dutch barn at the farm is storing organic wheat straw.  We remove the straw to help the following crop, as whilst the straw does contain valuable nutrients, it also takes nitrogen and energy to decompose, which will hold the following crop back.  Those nutrients though will be returned through our rotation of the crops and the application of manure.

Next to go was our wheat and bean mixture for Wildfarmed.  Much to everyone’s surprise this went through the combine just fine, and produced a relatively clean sample.  Combines these days are so sophisticated that you tell is what crop you are harvesting, and it adjusts itself to what it thinks are the ideal settings.   A wheat and bean mixture, where the wheats consist of four different varieties all of which are different heights, is most definitely not on the combine’s default settings, but anyway all was well in the end!  The next job will be to separate the wheat and beans once the rush of harvest is over, and for this we have been re-commissioning and re-siting our 1960s grain cleaner (we still have the original brochure… ).  We haven’t tried it yet, but hopefully I will be able to report progress next time. 
We have not yet harvested any of our conventional wheat or conventional beans, but hope to do so over the next week or so.  
Escaped Cattle
Many in the parish may be aware that a group of longhorn cattle belonging to our grazier Marbled Meats escaped from the Water Meadows on 12th July, having been chased into a corner and spooked by out-of-control dogs in the care of a commercial dog walker.  Thankfully all cattle have now safely been recovered, but the last animal avoided capture for a month, living largely out of sight in the unharvested oilseed rape and wheat by Gaddesden Row.  As readers will be able to imagine, this was an extremely stressful situation for all concerned, most particularly the cattle themselves.  If this becomes more common the only option may be the separation of the footpaths from the remainder of the water meadows with dog proof fencing, though of course nobody wants this. 
Works to the River Gade
The proposed works to the river Gade between the two bridges in Water End bridges appear to have postponed for another year whilst Affinity get their paperwork and various permissions in order.  There is not much to report here, although they do plan to remove some ivy to the south bridge by the Red Lion shortly to allow repairs to take place.   We may know more by next month, but as things stand I think it unlikely much more will happen this year.
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News April 2023
The March rain continued, making it one of the wettest on record, and early April wasn’t much better!  This put a stop to most field work on the farm, although we did manage to get some fertiliser on the winter crops in the very short windows that the weather allowed.  By and large these continue look well, and are growing fast now that there is some warmth in the sunshine.

Last month I wrote about the weeding of our organic crops and our Wildfarmed wheat.  We have been through all of these for a second time, and by and large have done a reasonable job, though we will only really know in late May, when what weeds remain start to poke out of the top of the crop.     That is probably the last of the weeding that we will do in the winter crops are they are now at a stage where we risk damaging them, and those weeds that remain are generally too big and won’t be taken out by the machine.  The crops themselves avoided the “steel worm” and didn’t seem in the least bit bothered by the process, though sadly the same can also be said of some of the larger weeds!

Our first organic crop is also really showing up the variations in inherent fertility in some of the fields.  Long Meadow, the field running down towards the Golden Parsonage from the Home Farm, is our most fertile field, and the organic wheat there looks as well fed as any of our conventional wheats which have received artificial fertiliser.  The fact that it is next to the farm, and therefore closest to the dairy cows when we still milked, is not a co-incidence, and this field received good quantities of organic manure for generations.  It just shows the vital role that livestock play in growing crops organically.  Great Almonds, in contrast, is now looking hungry, a fact amply demonstrated by a covering of small dark green patches, each one of which is on the site of a sheep’s dropping when it was grazed for a few weeks in the early spring.  The majority of field didn’t receive droppings, and as a result the plants are beginning to struggle for nitrogen.     
Readers may remember the linseed conundrum from last month.  The weather meant that the decision was delayed, as there was no way that the crop could be planted at the beginning of April, as would typically be the case.  As I write, we have just taken the decision not to plant it.  Despite having sold some of it forward for a price well above the current market, the maths overall is simply not there and we could expect a substantial loss, once all the costs of growing and harvesting were taken into account.  It would also most likely have meant a late harvest, putting pressure on the planting of the following winter wheat crop.

The plan is to plant a summer cover crop with a variety of species which will be great for pollinators and will offer soil conditioning and fertility.  The range of species is likely to include phacelia, buckwheat, berseem clover, reed millet, white mustard and linseed.  Some readers may remember a few years ago when we had a similar mix growing in the fields opposite the garden centre, and it was alive with bees, who seem to love the phacelia flowers above all else.   This will be planted in mid to late May, assuming there is sufficient moisture in the soil, allowing the plants to develop flowers, but not to early that they all set seed and we have to terminate them before they have done maximum benefit to the soil.

The oilseed rape along Gaddesden Row is now starting to flower, and this will continue for the next few weeks.  Apart from some pigeon damage in a few areas ( as usual all the quiet corners next to woods), the crop generally looks well. 
Bird Surveys
I mentioned last month that the Chilterns Conservation Board had carried out a bird survey across the farm over a couple of days in late February.  We are waiting for a complete breakdown of the data, but the headline numbers are encouraging, with 62 species being seen, of which 33 were species of conservation concern.  Only yesterday I saw a pair of lapwings on a field called Binghams Bottom, which is great news.  If the plan for the summer cover crop materialises, this should encourage many more of these delightful birds to nest here.  The last time we had a similar cropping situation on the same fields, I counted twenty eight in one flock, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the same happens again.   
Estate Work
The usual rounds of winter and early spring work have continued whilst farm work has been on hold, mainly with repairs to gutters, tracks and rooves.  The last few days of nice weather have also allowed us to harrow and roll various horse paddocks to encourage grass growth, although some, particularly those around Marsh Farm are still too wet for this. 
Show More
Gaddesden Estate Parish News March 2023
What a beautiful autumn it was. The trees and bushes were bright with their seasonal colour, ranging from the yellow of the ashes through gold to the bright reds of the North American oaks, particularly the Pin Oaks. Contrasting with the greens of the slowly turning oak foliage this all makes for a really beautiful sight; how fortunate we are to be able to live in leafy Hertfordshire.

Following last summer’s drought, we have been blessed with enough rain to get the autumn sown crops onto a good start. The soil, particularly where it was grazed with sheep (the traditional expression is that it has benefitted from  “the Golden Hoof“) is in good heart and has come through the winter reasonably well.

In the autumn we drilled our first crop of organic wheat, a breadmaking variety called “Extase”, in Great Almonds, Long Meadow and Reynolds Field.  This has looked good through the winter, but is now beginning to suffering from disease.  The variety generally has good resistance, which is one of the main reasons we planted it, but the lush growth in a kind autumn has allowed a disease called Septoria to creep in.  This attacks the green leaf of the plant, hindering its ability to photosynthesise, and is spread by the splashes of raindrops.  Being organic, the options available to us to treat it are very limited, and as I write some sheep are being moved onto it for a short term graze.  Such scenes were common before the advent of modern fungicides, and it is hoped that they will quickly eat down the plants, removing the diseased leaves and allowing the plants to put on fresh clean growth.  The timing of this is critical, as the plants will want to start growing rapidly as the spring weather warms, and we do not want to hinder this.   

As well as our organic wheat, we are also growing some wheat for a company called Wild Farmed.  You may have seen their products in the bakery section of M&S.  This is a blend of heritage varieties, some of which will grow to head height, that is planted alongside some field beans.  The whole crop will be harvested together and the beans and wheat separated in the grain store.  The aim of growing two crops in the same field, at the same time, is to increase the biodiversity within the field, to harness some symbiotic relationships to benefit both the plants and the soil, with the aim of both improving the soil health and producing food that has a higher nutrient density than that from conventional mono-cropped plants.  Like organic, this is grown largely without artificial inputs, although some fertiliser may be applied, subject to analysis of any deficiencies within the growing plants.  It is certainly an interesting experiment and can be seen growing in Robins and Cherry tree on the north side of the footpath between Marsh Wood and the Golden Parsonage.

We also have our conventional wheat, “Dawsum” which has been sown east of Red Lion Lane.  “Dawsum” is hard Group 4 wheat, and will go for low grade milling, probably for Weetabix.  Elmtree Park and Bingham’s Bottom are growing winter beans, while north of Gaddesden Row, at Whitehouse and Upperwood it is all oilseed rape.  Long term readers will know that oilseed rape is the favourite delicacy of a wide range of wildlife, but in particular pigeons over the winter.  This year has been different though.  The amount of woodland here in the Chilterns usually means we have a large number of pigeons, who typically start eating the crop from November onwards, as the weather cools and the beech mast and acorns get eaten up.  This year they have been nowhere to be seen, and it has been eerily quiet.  A big flock arrived on 3rd Feb, and then promptly disappeared again having been scared off.  All very strange, but perhaps bird flu is a factor. 

Late next month or early April we will be sowing linseed in the arable fields at Bridens Camp and Marsh Farm, which should give a beautiful display of blue flax flowers next summer.
Readers may remember that a large portion of New Gorse was felled last summer to remove diseased ash trees.  This has been replanted over the winter with a variety of native broadleaved trees, principally English Oak and Small Leaved Lime, with the addition of Wild Service Tree, hazel, quick thorn and hornbeam.  As these trees grow they will provide a range of canopy heights and some lovely diverse woodland that has been planted in a specific layout aimed at maximising both biodiversity and timber quality.   

Wild Service Tree, sorbus torminalis, is a little known native tree that had largely died out in this area, related to the Rowan or Mountain Ash. It has been popular on the continent as a good quality timber tree for a long time and is beginning to be planted more here.
Estate Work
Our principal task has been the refurbishment of Gaddesden Place Lodge, including installing a new boiler and woodburner, prior to re-letting. As usual much time has been spent on plumbing and maintenance during the winter, tidying up water supply runs, repairing leaks and reading meters.
Show More
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.

Show More
Gaddesden Estate News September 2022
Never before have we completed Harvest before the deadline for the Parish Newsletter! We finally finished combining Spring Wheat on 15th August, though not as early as 1976 when we finished on 7th August. We used to grow Winter Barley and Oilseed Rape, which often came in July, but the wheat harvest does not usually start until mid-August.

Thanks to the long dry spell the crops came in dry and thank goodness we have not had the expense of drying them.
When we have wet summers harvesting can be very dusty, due to the mould spores which grow on the cereals in damp conditions. The combine and the tractors get very dusty and the combine travels in a great grey cloud. We must spare a thought for combine drivers in the past who had to work without an air conditioned cab, protected by little more than a cloth around their faces! Those who watched the 1977 BBC film of “Harvest at Great Gaddesden” may remember this.

In July the Oats came first, followed by the Linseed, which in a normal year is the last to be ready in September. After a short break it was into the Spring Barley at Hawbush Farm. The wheat at Whitehouse and Upperwood came next, followed by the Marsh Farm fields above Gade Valley, and then the remaining Spring Barley, finishing up with a field of Spring Wheat on our South East march.
Yields were reasonable in most cases and the samples good. First feed Wheat made 9tha, Malting Barley 6.5t in the good bits and 5t/ha overall, Oats c6t/ha And Linseed £1.75t/ha.   

As every year, we are immediately into autumn work; though the ground now is too dry for many cultivations, and we must wait for some rain.  That said, we have had to cultivate our organic ground to kill the grass and clover before planting wheat in the autumn, as of course this cannot be sprayed off.  This has been rather a time consuming (and bumpy!) process as the ground has been very hard, but hopefully we have had reasonable success.  On the oat stubbles, which were combined early, we have broken up the ground with a heavy cultivator called a “Shakerator”, which was the only implement which would tackle the concrete-like conditions. At the time of writing, we are mucking out the cattle building at Hawbush, ready to spread on the land, which is one of the benefits of having livestock on the farm.
The ”Speckled Park” cattle are currently grazing with the sheep in Gaddesden Park, where they make a pleasantly bucolic sight.

Following the felling of diseased ash trees in New Gorse, and the clearance of the site for replanting, fencing contractors have been putting up a sturdy fence to deter deer from entering the plantation and damaging the young trees which will be going into the ground this coming winter. It is important to protect the saplings and give then the best possible start in life.

Our new Woodland Management Plan has been approved by the Forestry Commission so we are planning the next few years’ work, concentrating first, as before, on removing ash trees.

Estate maintenance
This is the time of year when we need to complete exterior decorations before the winter. We have several properties to re-paint at the Home Farm
Park and Ride
We were sad to have to cancel the August “Park and Ride”. The ground was much too hard both for horses and there would be an increased risk of injury to riders. The heat wave would have made life intolerable for the stewards who have to stand out all day supervising the road crossings. We still intend to hold the September charity event in aid of the Gaddesden Place Group Riding for the Disabled Association to which those who missed out in August have been invited to apply.
Show More
Gaddesden Estate News July/August 2022
Coronation and Jubilees
We have recently enjoyed all the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, on the TV and in the parish, in both Gaddesden Row and Great Gaddesden. These put me in mind of other celebrations to which the estate has contributed during the reign of Her Majesty the Queen.
For the coronation in 1953 the Coronation Sports between our two village schools were organised on the estate, on the Stable Meadow, principally by the late Bill Badcock, grandfather of Martin, our current jovial host at the “Crown and Sceptre”. These continued for quarter of a century until the Silver Jubilee in 1977. For that occasion we planted a new two acre wood called Jubilee Grove on formerly arable land.

For the Golden Jubilee in 2002 there was the new cricket pavilion, incorporating a scoring hut, where we received a contribution from Dacorum and the Parish Council gave the clock.

For the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 the Parish council organised a splendid bonfire as a beacon on Gaddesden Park with the concert live steamed from Buckingham Place.

This year our involvement was more low-key, but even so we had a huge bonfire on Parson’s Hill overlooking Great Gaddesden. In the forthcoming planting season, we have plans to contribute to the Queen’s Green Canopy.  We hope very much that the two village schools will be able to join other schools in Hertfordshire in making their own contributions to the QGC!

We are now in the final stages in the run up to harvest, and we will soon be sweeping out the stores ready to receive this year’s crop.  On the arable side the Winter Wheat looks promising, we are growing “Gleam” a hard feed wheat in the Gade Valley area and on Gristhouse field, while north of Gaddesden Row and on our southern boundary it is “Costello” another Group 4 hard feed wheat.

We have around 100 hectares of “Planet” Spring Barley, intended for malting (to make beer or whisky) and 50 hectares of Linseed. Our experiment of drilling heritage wheat into a clover/ryegrass mix in Great Almonds hasn’t paid off unfortunately due to the ryegrass dominating the sword and out competing the wheat, which didn’t receive enough nitrogen from the clover. However we have learnt a lot and look forward to developing this aspect of regenerative farming. The organic conversion fields are  being grazed by sheep, while they still need to be “topped” (mown) to prevent the ryegrass from seeding.

Cattle are grazing in various places, with the Longhorns giving a very bucolic aspect to the Water Meadows.   The wild flowers this year have been fantastic so far, with the sequence of dandelions, clovers, buttercups, ox-eye daisies and knapweeds providing a glorious range of colours.   

Felling and removal of diseased ash trees and some Norway Spruce and European Larch from New Gorse is complete, and the area is being prepared for replanting this coming season. The ash timber should be very resilient, but the disease has made it brittle and not much use for anything but firewood. The vast majority of the brash has been turned into woodchip. The remainder has been dragged into “windrows” so that there are  clear areas for the replanting. We will have to surround the area with a deer fence to enable the young saplings not to be browsed. One gratifying aspect is the quantity of healthy young oak trees from the original planting of 1984 and the subsequent enrichment which remain. There are rather more than were apparent before the felling.
We had a very successful “Park and Ride” in May and look forward to the July and August events, with the Charity Ride in September, as usual.
Show More
Gaddesden Estate News April 2022
During the winter months there has been little to report, without repeating the regular work of machinery and building maintenance. Now the spring has come, the wild daffodils and primroses are brightening the woods and hedges and the land begins to wake up from its slumbers. The blackthorn blossom has appeared and soon the cherry blossom will be here as well. Shoots are beginning to show on many trees and underwood, what is known by the woodman as ”flushing”.

Arable Farming
The winter wheat and oats have come through the cold, dark months well and look promising, though our experimental planting of wheat into a clover “living mulch” in Great Almonds has yet really been able to show its potential. We have taken the opportunity of the recent dry spell to start our spring drilling and we now have sown Bingham’s Bottom and Elmtree Park with spring barley intended for malting (beer or whisky). We still have more barley to sow in fields at Hawbush Farm, and also a block of linseed.
Nearly all 2021 harvest produce has been shifted, though we still have a lorry load of barley and a little wheat to go.

We do not have any of our own livestock, though, two of our neighbours, Reg Cornthwaite and Breeding Vision graze sheep on Gaddesden Park and our organic conversion fields. The latter business also has cattle, in particular the Longhorns, which have been housed for the winter at Hawbush and in due course will grace the water meadows between Water End and Great Gaddesden. Overall, this means that we are effectively a mixed farm, albeit predominantly arable.

While on the subject of farming, I cannot avoid mentioning the conflict in Ukraine and the general economic situation. Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, oil and the raw materials for fertiliser. These all have a major effect on the agricultural sector. Tractors use a lot of diesel when working the land, while conventional crops are highly dependent on fertilisers, nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. The cost of these commodities has in some cases quadrupled. Fuel price rises are well known, but for the last load of farm diesel we ordered the supplier was even unable to quote us a price, and we await both the delivery and the bill with some trepidation.

On the plus side for the farmer the value of the commodities grown (which are traded globally, with the markets typically in dollars) have increased substantially, though this is bound to affect the prices of bread in the shops in due course.  With all of these price rises both for inputs and outputs it increases working capital requirement for the cropping year and means the financial implications of, for example, bad weather events risk being that much more severe.  For the time being we are continuing to plant our crops largely as normal, but it isn’t for the faint hearted!

Our local Forestry Commission officer came recently to go through the proposals in our new ten-year Forest Management Plan from 2022 to 2032. We have a continuous series of what used to be called “Plans of Operations” since the first one begun by Sir Thomas Halsey in 1957. While we have permission to fell predominantly ash trees in New Gorse, this highlights the problem we have with “Ash die-back” disease, about which I have written on many previous occasions. We are hoping to get much of the ash felled as part of the regular thinning and harvesting programme, rather than resort to very expensive tree surgery.

Horses and the Ride
With the summer ahead we are putting ride and jump maintenance on our work programme prior to the first of these on 8th May; they follow on 3rd July, 14th Aug and the Charity Ride 11th September. Booking as usual is through the Equo website

Estate maintenance
We have completed the redecoration of the Home Farm House, prior to re-letting, both inside and outside and entirely rearranged the garden with new beech hedges, shrubs and trees. Two other properties have had new oil tanks installed for their central heating.  Following the recent storms, there have been slates, and tiles to replace and gutters to repair, as well as a large number of trees to tidy up.
Show More
Gaddesden Estate News February 2022
The crops continue quietly growing during the winter months. The longhorns cattle are tucked up cosily at Hawbush Farm, while the sheep are grazing in Gaddesden Park and on the clover/ryegrass leys in the fields destined for organic conversion.
The spring barley seed we saved from harvest 2021 has been dressed ready for sowing this year.
Grain lorries have been collecting last year’s produce and almost all the oats have now been moved.
Hedge cutting has finished in accordance with the programme, prior to the official completion date of the end of February. This is to avoid disturbance to nesting farmland birds.
Estate maintenance
We have planted a new beech hedge in the car park at Whitehouse Farm Business Centre and we are currently refurbishing the garden at the Home Farm House, which is also being redecorated before being re-let.
Contractors have removed much of the old asbestos-cement roofing at the Home Farm and re-clad the lean-to on the big Dutch barn at the Home Farm.
We have received the Felling Licence from the Forestry Commission to fell all the diseased ash trees in New Gorse and this work is planned to take place in the summer when the ground should be dry enough.
Horses and Ride
There is little to record, though in a few weeks we will be beginning the annual maintenance of the paddocks, ride and jumps.
Water meadows and tracks
As usual we will be closing access to the water meadows and tracks for 36 hours in mid-March, though not of course public rights of way.
Platinum Jubilee
We are in contact with Great Gaddesden Parish Council about having a bonfire in the Park on June 2nd as our contribution to the chain of beacons for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Show More
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. 
Show More
Gaddesden Estate News November 2021
This is the first estate news for a few months, mainly because there was little to say about harvest, which was much delayed. This year has been difficult. With a cold and damp August, harvest can best be described as “catchy”. In the end we were able to get all the crops harvested beginning with the spring barley on 20th August and concluding with the linseed on 17th September.

Shortage of transport affecting collection of sold grain and delivery of inputs for autumn drilling, closure of fertilizer plants making fertilizer in short supply and expensive. However, with a kind September and October we have been able to get all the planned autumn drilling of wheat and oats done for the 2022 crop.
As reported on earlier occasions, we have a block of fields which we hope to convert to organic production, having been sown with a ley of clovers and ryegrass. This was grazed heavily with sheep over the summer, though we still had to do a lot of topping to prevent the ryegrass and black grass seed heads developing.

In one field, Great Almonds, we have experimented with a new form of growing wheat which involves hiring specialist machinery to drill the seeds into strips within the clover/grass ley, using satellite technology. The ley will then be mown, again with a specialized machine to prevent the ley smothering the crop. The idea is for the natural nitrogen fixing ability of the clovers (like all legumes or pulse crops) will fertilize the wheat. Let’s see how it goes!

As an aside the field name “Great Almonds” has been in use for many years. From old estate maps we can see that it is a corruption of “Harman’s” and the adjoining London Wood used to be called Harman’s Wood. Who Mr Harman was we shall probably never know.

Walkers in High Park Wood will have seen the mulching work, chopping up the stumps and fallen “lop and top” to provide an excellent entry for the next crop of trees to be planted.

Water meadows
We have had several representations about the misuse of the meadows along the River Gade from Great Gaddesden to Water End. On one occasion I was sworn at by a commercial dog walker who had parked her van blocking the gate on the Ladies’ Mile entrance, obstructing my Land-Rover from getting out onto the road! Commercial dog walkers have been a particular problem, often with several vans parked along the fence near the former “Cock and Bottle”. The grazing by Longhorn cattle has marginally eased the situation. However the meadows are not open for public access and are formally closed every year for 36 hours in mid-March. In future the only access to the meadows will be via the public footpaths.

Park and Ride, Ride and horses

The Park and Ride season has come to close, we welcomed lots of new faces throughout the season and was lovely to see familiar faces that visit year after year.

Always a pleasure to put these events together, it wouldn’t be the same without being fed by the amazing Marbled meats, and Brian Findlay’s photography capturing the riders best shot. And not forgetting the RDA that do such a fantastic job at directing, Guiding and keep the riders safe on course all with a smile! We have had wonderful feedback and can’t wait to get back out there next year.
Our Septembers Charity ride for the RDA raised £2281.50 plus the cash donations that were given on the day.

Estate maintenance &c
We have been thankful for some dry days in September and October to finish this year’s external decorating.  It’s been a busy year with installing new boilers, replacing windows, installing new lighting, chimney and roof repairs.  We have a rolling cycle of works to our properties to enable us to keep the properties in good repair.

Thoughts will soon be turning to plan for next year’s works and fingers crossed for no violent storms over the winter period.
Show More
Gaddesden Estate News July/August 2021
High Park Wood – clearance for replanting
As I have mentioned several times before we shall be bringing in machinery to clear the area which was felled last year. This will involve mulching the tree stumps and “lop and top” which was left over after the felling. The object is to prepare the ground so that it is in a satisfactory condition for replanting. The timing of the operation is planned to be after the end of the main nesting season for birds. The contractors will be told of and possible badger sets and instructed to avoid disturbing them. This is the only forestry operation which we are doing this year, though there are several in the programme for next year.

We are approaching “shut the gate” time, when all the field operations for this year’s harvest have been completed and we wait for the sunshine to ripen the crops for harvesting. There is just one last round of fungicide to do on the cereal crops to prevent disease in the ears.  If left untreated, there is a risk of diseases getting into the ear, one of which can cause the development of toxins in the grain making it unfit for human consumption. 

The risk of disease is largely determined by the amount of rainfall and levels of humidity when the plants are flowering.  The risk of disease is largely determined by the amount of rainfall and levels of humidity when the plants are flowering, and decisions on treatment product, rate and timing are taken based on current and forecast conditions, together with the knowledge that since cure is impossible, prevention is the only option.    
With no oilseed rape this year it is likely that the start of harvest will be later than it has been for some years, as the rape is always the first crop to be cut.  That said, we are having to keep topping the organic conversion grass and clover, as the ryegrasses within it are putting on seed heads, and these must be destroyed before it has a chance to set seed.  We are controlling these grasses by mowing high (topping) to remove the seeds, and also grazing with sheep.  An alternative method would be to mow for either hay or silage, but this would involve removing the cut grass which represents a loss of carbon and organic matter from the farm as we have no livestock of our own to feed it to.      
The Water Meadows
As many readers will know, there is no formal public access to water meadows between Pipers Hill and the Ladies Mile (the public footpath from Pipers Hill officially runs down beside the drive to Sybden House and onto the arable field behind). However there has been permissive access granted by the Estate for some years at the Great Gaddesden end of the water meadows (where there is now a stile) as we are aware that it is a very valuable resource for many in the local community. 

The past year has seen a steep rise in the number of people out and enjoying the countryside, and while of course this is to be welcomed, in some instances this has led to a degree of abuse of the land, in particular of commercial activity, which risks spoiling the place for others.  We are aware that a number of commercial dog walking enterprises have recently taken to using the water meadows, contravening the permissive access arrangement for the local community. We will be contacting them to request that they go elsewhere, and we would be grateful for any reports of similar activity. By being vigilant to this as a community we hope we will be able to maintain the current status of permissive access.  If this proves not to be possible we may have to consider whether closure of the meadows is the only option, which would of course be a great loss to the village.   
Show More
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.

Show More
Gaddesden Estate News May 2021
The great news is that drilling of all crops has now been completed, with the linseed finally being sown on 8th April in Lodgemans, Peatmans and Ragged Hall. The parish boundary runs through Lodgemans, with part of the field being in Flamstead parish, as is Peatmans. I don’t know the origin of Lodgmans, though Peatmans, which is sometimes called “Peakmans” in old documents, shares its name with both a field on the neighbouring Puddephats Estate, between Newlands Wood and Babies Wood, as well as Peatmans Lane, sometimes confusingly called Whitehouse Lane, which is the restricted byway running north from Gaddesden Row School. Ragged Hall is the other end of Gaddesden Row. Formerly it was two fields, Eastleigh and Twitchells. The former name is retained by the cottage adjoining the field, while Twitchells may refer to the land being formerly infested with couch grass, often called in the east of England “twitch”. the two fields were amalgamated in the 1950s or 1960s and renamed Ragged Hall after a neighbouring house.

The electric fencing around the fields being grazed by sheep, which I mentioned last month, has now been completed. The fences adjoin several public footpaths and yellow warning signs have been put up. There is plenty of space between the paths and the electric fences.
General farm work continues with the usual round of road and track repairs, gate hanging and machinery maintenance.

We have recently met the Forestry Commission to inspect areas in two woods where a large number of ash trees are dying from ash dieback “Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus”, which was formerly known as “chalara”. The disease is rampant in this area and can cause branches to snap off and fall as the tree gradually dies and decays. Readers may remember that this is also why we felled the trees in High Park Wood last year. The woodland compartments concerned, which are likely to be felled in 2022 are in Big Wood, adjoining the Red Lion Lane opposite the Home Farm entrance, and New Gorse near the Golden Parsonage. Both compartments will be replanted in due course.

In High Park Wood, we will be bringing in a machine, in July or August this year, after the bird nesting season, to “mulch” the stumps, roots &c, so as to leave a clear site for replanting with native species already agreed with the Forestry Commission.
We are currently in discussion with the Forestry Commission about tree health and felling licences. Our current licences run out in 2022 and the next stage is to prepare a new Plan of Operations to cover the work we need to do over the next five to ten years.
Our regular roadside tree survey is in hand as I write and some people may have noticed that some trees have painted numbers on them, indicating that they may need attention.

Estate properties
Now that spring is here and soon it will be summer, annual maintenance time has now arrived, principally exterior redecoration, reading water meters &c.
Equestrian Matters
A quick overview for everything equine over the last couple of months.  All the grazing paddocks have been harrowed and rolled and a few maintenance jobs carried out mainly at The Ley at Whitehouse Farm. The grazing is thankfully slowly recovering from the wet winter.

New fencing has been erected in Spinney Meadow, which is also at Whitehouse, by our client to keep walkers from straying off the popular public footpath, causing damage to the grazing and leaving the gate open for the horses to escape.

Preparations are being made to prepare Abel’s Meadow, in Flamstead Parish (another field name dating from the Middle Ages!) for new clients in May. There is lots of work still to be done and water to be connected.

We have had a handful of new members joining the Gaddesden Estate Ride. The bridge in New Gorse has been repaired, and reopened, main parts of the ride have been rolled after a fair bit of damage on Lime Avenue and Cherrytree Field and is looking much better.

Park and Ride
May’s Park and Ride is fully booked bar a couple of places in the novice slot.  
Show More
Gaddesden Estate News April 2021
We have at last been able to get on with some land work after a long wet and cold winter. 73 hectares to drill with linseed and oats.  45% of our autumn sown winter wheat has failed so 94 hectares (235 acres) have been re-drilled with spring crops, in some fields this will be wheat and in other fields barley. We hope that this latter will make a malting sample and go for brewing or whisky distilling. We still have 75 ha (185 ac) of planned Spring cropping on Whitehouse and Upperwood Farms north of Gaddesden Row. This is due to comprise beans and linseed.

Walkers will have noticed that several fields are being fenced with semi-permanent electric fencing. These fields are in our Organic Conversion programme. Provided that we have a reasonable harvest this year, they will have a couple of years grazing by sheep before being sown with a fully certified organic crop.

To digress onto the names of fields, which I did a few months ago and which sparked some interest, two of the fields being grazed are called Great Almonds and Bingham’s Bottom. Great Almonds was originally Great Harman’s, as the adjoining London Wood was called Harman’s Wood. For many years in the 1970s and 1980s this filed was divided by mains electric fencing into paddocks for the dairy herd, with a “race” down the middle of the field. Bingham’s Bottom is a valley field adjoining the site of Gaddesden Cottage which was lived in by several generations of the Bingham Family. They were vicars of Great Gaddesden, and their memorials are in the church on the left as you enter through the main door, behind the font. I believe they were interred in a vault beneath the memorials.

Turning to the recently re-drilled fields, the largest is Highbush-Farthings. I don’t know the origin of “Highbush”, but fields called “Farthings” or “Severalls” often indicate areas which were once part of the mediaeval “three field” strip farming system. Another field is Long Garmer, or Ford’s-Long Garmer. Garmer and Ford’s Meadow were amalgamated in the 1960s. I don’t know who Ford was though Garmer shares a name with Garmer Spring, a spinney adjoining it. “Spring” in this case refers not to a spring of water but to small woods which were formerly coppiced to yield underwood products such as hedging and thatching spars. Garmer Lane is the bridleway from the Red Lion corner in Water End to Corner Farm in Gaddesden Row. Again, I do not know the origin of the name.

Horses, grazing and Park & Ride
Paddock maintenance- we are waiting for the right weather to Harrow and Roll the paddocks after a very wet winter. Annual maintenance has been carried out on shelters.

Smaller jumps are being made for our younger riders to have the option to pop over whilst out and about. 
Park and Ride- numbers are already looking good for 9th May.  Planning has begun for the Charity Ride on 12th September, with riders already booked in we are hoping for another busy season ahead.

The other Park and Ride dates are 4th July and 8th August. Booking as usual is through Equo.
Show More