It is always good to hear the chack chack of our winter visitors from Scandinavia and further East from Siberia . They are come to feast on the apples and Mervyn is here to ring them , weigh and measure and not their condition – all useful information for the British Ornithological Trust.
All the news from the farm, the latest information on our produce & products and lots more!
Castle Fruit Farm High Spots in 2017. Successful growing and harvesting season.Bumper crops thanks to our great team here and our summer family of harvest workers. Richie and Claire have added a new Baby Bentley,baby Maddie to the team. Having our work recognised by several awards this year. Seeing signs of increasing diversity of natural life on the farm Taking part in the Ledbury Food Group photo year project. Working with our new partner Prima Fruit was a pleasure and a success for both parties Challenges for 2018: The impact of Brexit is still unclear both for our farm and all others who need seasonal labour. Listening to the current debate, not much has changed and there has been very little response from the government, who do not appear to understand the consequences to the rural economy, food security and the survival of our agricultural and horticultural sector. Harvest seasonal labour is not an immigration issue! It is a result of Brexit. Our thriving horticultural and agricultural businesses are an important part of the rural economy. If we no longer invest and disappear , the knock on effect on the rural economy would be significant. Food security : the less
So harvest is over! Our summer family of pickers are mostly homeward bound after a very busy and lucrative time here. They go home to their communities hoping for good snow as many of them work in the ski business in the winter. They were a good crew and we hope we will see most of them next year. We are still waiting to hear what the procedure for bringing in harvest labour will be next season. All growers here totally rely on this labour – whatever high ideals there are about jobs for local people it is an entirely impractical and unrealistic suggestion. Of course, we could all stop growing and just import from Europe….. The last Jazz and Braeburn were brought in last Friday. Then Bristol gleaners took a couple of tons away last week to distribute to Food Banks and through Fair Shares. We now look forward to the next wave of gleaners: the thrushes, redwings and field fares will swoop noisily in, chack chacking and clear every last bit of fruit from the trees and the ground and hopefully clearing away some bugs too. Amazing that our unpaid army of birds and pollinators together with soil,
The year is flying by ! I am going to introduce you to our team. The weather, the pollinators, the condition of the trees are all important but above all it is our team that brings the orchards literally to fruition with great quality fruits which keeps us an economic thriving fruit farm. Small family farms like ours are under threat as the economies of scale favours much larger operations than Castle Fruit Farm but we hope that there will continue to be a place for orchards like ours in the rural economy. Michael and Chrissy Bentley came to Castle Fruit farm in 2002 from an arable background. We were very ably supported by Clive Maile our Manager who has amassed a wealth of experience and knowledge over his 37 years on Castle Fruit Farm. We have now been joined by son Richie , together with wife Claire and sons Oskar and Rudi who bring a great new energy to the farm ! The rest of the team is Nick , Mechanic, John our longstanding semi retired tractor driver, Artur, our senior tractor driver, Konrad our Field Foreman, Radek, Slavi and Arek. They are all hardworking young men from Poland
The magic of pollination has happened and we have a myriad of insects to thank and above all think about. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male anthers to the female stigma which is essential to kick start cell division and set the fruit. Poor pollination leads to poor fruit set and yield and misshaped fruits, neither good news! There are many insects that pollinate and to encourage large populations we need to provide sources of pollen and nectar right through from March until September. We must also provide habitat for all these pollinators nesting places and winter hideaways. All our non tree acres must be managed for these very important workers and here on Castle Fruit farm we are increasingly working to provide for them . We leave hedgerow margins, we don’t prune hedges every year, we are planting wild flower banks and keep as much brush, bramble thickets, dead trees and vegetation as possible . We mow every alternate alleyway to let flowers set seed and provide habitat. This is all a far cry from previous practice when farmers were urged to be tidy and cut and trim and spray everything in sight.What ignorance and with
Who is going to harvest our fruit this year ? Buds are breaking on the Valor plum trees and hurrah,the blackthorn is in full blossom so the pollinators can get to work. These are our free workers so we try to make sure pollen is available early on by planting goat willow and keeping some of the hedges uncut for their early blossom. More on the importance of biodiversity later as what is more pressing is organising our harvest workers. Like all farmers we rely on seasonal labour to harvest our crops. In our case this means a group of Bulgarians who come every year for 3-5 months. Who works here has recently become a topic of heated discussion as Brexit and immigration hit the headlines. There are those who oppose this “immigration” and those who believe we should employ our local unemployed. The situation is not so simple and these are some of the issues as I see them.
Winter Work : ” surely there is nothing to do now it’s winter ” How that makes Clive laugh ! One of the foremost things on our minds is :Tree planting. Orchards are being continually renewed, driven by age, unprofitability and the never ending desire of consumers for the new. It is a necessary and huge commitment in every way not just financial. The other tasks at this time of the year are pruning , machinery maintenance , coppicing, logging, ditching , hedge cutting and planning labour for next season, and on wet days catching up on research findings and never ending paperwork – deserves a blog on its own !
Mervyn is an accredited ringer and is monitoring migrant populations of Redwings, Field Fares and Thrushes. All his data goes to the British Ornithological Society . He sets his nets in which he drops a device which plays the call of a male Lithuanian Redwing and it certainly attracts the crowds. A quick weigh and examination follows and the birds fly off unharmed but ringed . Sometimes he catches ringed birds but more often not. More details will follow !
We have missed a trick ! Try one of Bentleys Apple Juices with a good slug of Bentleys Plum Delicious . Throw in the ice cubes and enjoy ! New Offer on the farm until the end of June, one case (6 bottles 75cls ) of single variety Apple juice and a free bottle of Bentleys Plum Delicious!