Tolly’s Rambles on…

… trees and birds

Summer continues to shine, marking one of the best growing seasons we have had in the past decade, but the chilly misty mornings of autumn are beginning to make themselves felt, a reminder that even good summers come to an end eventually. The pace on the farm continues for a few more weeks yet with planting up the tunnels with winter salads and getting land back into green manures. Still a bit of weed control needed in some crops and irrigation continues, marking the driest August for over a decade. We have harvested all of our onions over 4000kg are now safely in store. This will last us over the whole winter and the empty land is now sown to a green manure. This protects the soil surface from the heavy winter rains, replaces nutrients, provides homes for predators and replaces soil carbon. We use lots of green manures especially over the winter period, so most of our land will be covered with either a winter crop or a green cover of some type. For us bio-diversity is the most important aspect of looking after the land for the future. Looking after natural systems looks after our secondary occupation of producing crops, with pests and diseases being controlled by nature.

I love trees, well who doesn’t really, they are the oldest living things on the planet, they give us so much but demand so little. Over the years here at Hardwick we have planted a lot of trees, filling gaps in old hedges, creating windbreaks to shelter our crops from wind and boosting habitats for birds especially. We have had the offer of grant aid from The Woodland Trust  to embark on a new and very exciting scheme to set up an agro-forestry system within part of our vegetable growing fields.  Agro-forestry is an integrated approach of using the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops. Most of the work in UK has been with agricultural crops, cereals mostly, little has been done within a commercial long established  vegetable cropping system. So during the winter we will be planting up around 1,000 mixed tree types with some fruit trees in a series of strips the width of the field allowing 20 odd metres between the strips. We will continue to grow our vegetable crops in the land in between. The strips will include bush and trees and will be managed in a variety of ways to create a multi-dimensional cropping system each component helping each other out. The whole project will be monitored over many years to evaluate the advantages/disadvantages to cropping as well as looking at the effect on sequestering carbon into the soil. We anticipate that the carbon sequestration will become a very important aspect of the system as things develop over the next few years. So we are putting our faith in bio-diversity, loosing over 10% of our cropping land to trees but gaining resilience and crop health as a compensation.

If you are a bit of an ornithologist you would love it here, we have a very diverse range of bird species, which appears to be increasing, mostly as a result of our improvements to bio-diversity. We have had an RSPB survey done some years ago which was very interesting as we had several rare species here but would love somebody to come along and have another look to see what is about. Ideally a regular visit throughout the year would be useful to gather information as to what actually flies in and out of our fields and how our activities on the land impact/improve the opportunities for birds to flourish. If anybody would like to do this please contact us, or if you know anybody who may be interested please pass this on.

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