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William Hebditch - January 1st, 2012.

New Cross Strawberries

Aphid control

William Hebditch - October 6th, 2018.

It’s been a long time since I last wrote anything, my apologies.  Well, our season has come to an end. The lovely dry weather has been a real boon, so much easier harvesting with the sun on your back rather than the rain. Fruit quality has been good, quantity a bit down due to the rotten spring but sugars and solid matter content high. We even had blackcurrant berries with over 20% sugars, awesome. After a very difficult start with our staff, issuing more P45’s than ever before, we ended up with a nice group of hardworking Romanians. Said goodbye to the last 2 today.

It’s a real autumnal look out of the window today, cold wet and windy, leaves flying all over the place. Liz laid some turf yesterday, so the rain is very welcome for that. I wonder if we’ll have another explosion of field mushrooms next week? I’ve been doing a lot of spraying recently and have driven over more ‘shrooms than I’ve seen for ages. If they come up again it will definitely be mushroom soup time.  It is amazing how spraying for aphids in the autumn has become the norm. All down to careful investigation into aphids flight habits. Most of the aphids that are pests on our perennial crops have an alternative summer host plant. They return to breed and lay overwintering eggs on the woody plants. As there is no new leaf growth, they don’t cause leaves to curl up and so are a much easier target for us to spray. The chemical residues disappear before the next year and we don’t have problems during the flowering period when the little blighters are most active and causing maximum damage. A good result for us peasants.

We’re still wondering what on earth will happen with the ghastly Brexit thing. Will we be able to get pickers next year? We at least have a trial SAWs scheme again, but only 2500 people not the 60,000 required by British agriculture. I suppose it’s a start, but of no use to us in the next couple of years. I endlessly wonder who mends Rees Mogg’s cars, delivers his parcels, does his plumbing, building works, cares for elderly relations let alone produce his food. Oh, but of course, he’s taking his money offshore. He’s taking back control I suppose! I recently read an article which claimed Brexit is already costing £500m per week. What was that slogan on the bus?

Regaining Sovereignty

William Hebditch - August 16th, 2018.

The hot summer seems to be fading. Nice to see a drop of rain, at least the lawn has greened up. I hope it doesn’t go into overtime and rain like last year.

The dry weather has been a bit of a boon for us, our very first dry cherry season. Actually picked Sweetheart cherries for the first and probably the last time in my career. We’re suffering from the effects of a cold wet spring. It’s so easy to forget how horrid it was back in April and early May when things were in flower. The lack of pollination weather, no insect activity all things that reduced fruit set and hence smaller crops. For us, fruit size has not been a problem and sugar levels are high making for nice quality eating fruit.

It will be interesting to see what our politicians can conjure up in the next 8 months. Will they sort out a brexit plan. Looking horribly unlikely at the moment.  If there’s no deal will the collapsing pound do us good or ill, good for our prices, disastrous trying to get workers from europe.  I don’t think many of us would stand the de facto wage cut our Romanians have taken over the last 2 years.

I wonder why the Brexiteers have gone so quiet about the £350,000,000 per week for the health service or even the 80 million Turks who were supposed to be queuing up to come here. For that matter why has the government not published all the analysis done on the likely effects o our economy?  Our government has certainly taken back control, what off, I’m not sure.

I’ll stop ranting and go and put away some more Victorias in the cold store.

Happy Brexit.

William Hebditch - July 9th, 2018.

What a mess our politicians are in. It is quite difficult to understand why Johnson and Davis agreed on Friday then resigned, why didn’t they do it in front of the whole cabinet? Small cojones perhaps. I still wish the Brexit side would really explain what the advantages are outside of the union. Most economists, many major companies and even New Cross Fruit Farm think that little good will come out of it all. I am fascinated that Lord Lawson is getting French residency and J. Rees Mogg is setting up part of his hedge fund in Dublin. That shows real confidence in the UK. Ah, but, we’re going to have new trade deals with that sane man in the USA. Perhaps we should ask Putin to buy us out. Interesting to find that Aaron Banks had 11 meetings with the Russian ambassador around the referendum time.

I was always told to follow the money… so where is Banks making his stash, and Rees Mogg?  What about Farage and his crew. I can’t see the benefit in turning the UK into a backwater, loosing skilled jobs and increasing the number of zero hours contracts. Ok, we may have lots of jobs when all the “Europeans” leave the health service, care homes, hospitality and even horticulture. It will certainly devastate the tax base and hence any remaining Government services. No doubt we’ll still be able to send our armed forces around the world, exerting our non existent influence. Big aircraft carriers with no planes.. sounds useful. 4 nuclear submarines under the ultimate control of President Trump…Nice one.

It’s interesting to see how horticulturists, like us, are changing their investment plans. A lot of people planting perennial crops are holding off making investment decisions.. just like the car and aerospace industries. Perhaps some good will come of it. Perhaps we can be serfs on Rees Mogg’s estate.

Disappearing moths

William Hebditch - July 2nd, 2018.

This is the weather we need for cherries. Dry. Just a pity the weather wasn’t better during pollination as we have quite a small crop. The order of ripening of the various varieties seems to be a little wonky, particularly Kordia and Summersun.  It’s making our life trying to provide a regular cherry supply a bit difficult, we could do with something ripening in the next few days.  Next week we should be back on song.

Meanwhile the raspberries are really lovely. I always stick a load in the freezer, in their punnets, and then have them with my breakfast cereal through the year.Gooseberries are all but done and dusted, so if you want some, come quick!

Next week the Ribena blackcurrant harvest will get underway. Last year we had a big problem with caterpillars getting into the bins of fruit. When you put a harvester into the crop, we catch all sorts, insects, wasp nests and one of our neighbours even picked a grass snake! Our caterpillars were Light Brown apple moth, a fairly recent introduction to this country. Our bushes were diggered with them. I’ve had pheromone traps out for them in the plums and cherries and they generally get controlled by Codling moth or Plum Fruit moth sprays, so I’m generally not too bothered about them. After last years outbreak I’ve been assiduously trapping the blighters, and, guess what, hardly caught a single moth. Actually 4 in 2 months in 4 traps. Then it was suggested that perhaps they weren’t LBAM but Carnation tortrix moths, so I go out and buy traps for them as well. Not a single moth…So the million dollar question is why has the population crashed so drastically? Answers on a postcard, please.

Meanwhile, fingers crossed the weather stays fine. Harvesting is so much better in the dry.

Mrs Tristram

William Hebditch - June 16th, 2018.

We are rapidly approaching the end of another Asparagus season. Last cut on mid summers day. That allows the plants to produce loads of foliage to harvest the sunlight to make carbohydrates which are stored in the root system. This is what makes asparagus grow next year so a long hot summer is good for next season.

Actually we are coming into a vital period for next years fruit crops. Most bush and tree fruits are just starting to initiate flower buds,, just where leaves reach the stem, the “axil”. So not only is the plant supporting this years crop but resources have to go to the buds. We hope photosynthetic abilities are at their peak and nutrient supplies are not compromised. In some ways you want high nitrogen levels, to stimulate vegetative growth, but there is a downside to fruit quality, high N gives low fruit sugars and much increased rotting potential. With Blackcurrants those two factors directly influence price. low sugars and high rots mean a big price decrease. So it’s a case of fingers crossed that we’ve supported the bushes well up to now, without an excess of nitrogen to cause problems. All gets revealed when the fruit goes to the factory and quality and Brix (sugar) levels are known. Generally the fruit crops look healthy with strong green leaves but there is quite a lot of fruit to divert nutrition from the buds. I can witter on about such things ad infinitum so I’d better shut up!

For all my growing career, we’ve had a Ribena “temporary field officer” to keep us growers in line. A lovely lady who reaches a very significant birthday this year. The number 9 is involved… We’re off to a party in her honour tonight. It’s a month ahead of the proper date ( which was slap bang in the middle of the currant harvest) as it’s a joint party with her daughter.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RUBY!!

Bees

William Hebditch - May 30th, 2018.

Sorry, haven’t done very well writing blogs lately. We’ve had some staffing problems, people coming and going, so it’s been all hands to the pump to keep the show going. Sort of classic swan thing, serene on top whilst paddling furiously underneath.

Most of the flowering season is now over and generally we have a fair set of the different fruits. Nothing looks like it will be horribly overcropping but there are definitely heavy crops of the earlier Blackcurrant varieties. Raspberry flowers have been impressive, on the good days they absolutely hum with bees. Mostly bumbles, we buy in extra Bombus terrestris bees and now have quite a large number of wild Bombus hypnorum colonies. Luckily they nest in trees and bird boxes, so out of reach of my black and white friends. Interesting to see how many ground nesting bee colonies we have on the farm. You see the remains of a few beaten up worker bees where the colony has been dug up. Just recently as the honey stores have been built up, the b….rs start digging them out. Ah, but, it’s farmers who kill all the bees…

Of course, honey bees are farmed and only survive with human intervention. If it is economically unviable to maintain bee hives because people aren’t prepared to pay a realistic price for English honey, then hives will not be maintained and bee numbers drop. Doh, simple really.  We do have our own colony of black wild bees on the farm. Magic stuff, love watching them. And they are nicely high up in a tree out of reach.

We have a new cultivar of raspberry with a code number, D3 to us, really early, so we hope to be picking in a couple of weeks. 30 days from flowering to fruit. 90 days for Ben Vane blackcurrants….Folfer cherries are swelling, our first time with this variety.

There ain’t gold in them thar hills

William Hebditch - May 11th, 2018.

What a roller coaster ride of a spring, a couple of days of heat then back to cold. Makes planning an asparagus crop utterly impossible. It’s a real seat of the pants year. Then today 4 of our workers left us mid morning. Next week will be a little difficult so please bear with us whilst we try and sort out our troubles!

Mean while the good weather over the bank holiday weekend appears to have helped with the setting of cherries and blackcurrant flowers. Though it’s so difficult to call on cherries, they do have a tendency to continually drop fruitlets right through till harvest. This year we decided to put the nets on early to stop all the pigeons grazing young foliage and pea green tiny cherries. We missed out 1 bed, that’s been murdered by the b. pigeons!

David and Louisa are coming back soon from the gold mine in Mali, perhaps they’ll bring an ingot with them! I’ve seen photo’s of a 25 kg ingot, looks very impressive and expensive. Don’t think I’ll have much luck panning in the Lambrook brook!

Mole

William Hebditch - April 25th, 2018.

A slightly strange spring, late and very fast. Plum blossom out for 3 days then gone. That coincided with the hot weather so we’ll probably end up with a crop. It pushed on the cherries and currants into what is now a rather uninspiring week and what apparently will be a cold weekend. Such is life. It’s kept me busy with the sprayer, trying to protect flowers against blossom wilt and botrytis. Both diseases of wet and cool weather.

The covered asparagus is well on the go. Outdoor is hardly showing a spear yet. Oh the joy of modern materials. At least we can give you fresh Asparagus on a daily basis. It’s just a tedious job lifting polythene, cutting then putting it all back. Dirty heavy work! I must say the asparagus we’ve eaten so far is jolly nice, very sweet and moreish.

Even though many flowers have come and gone quickly, including our wonderful patch of Fritillaries in the garden, the swathes of primroses have been absolutely spectacular. When the first flowers came out, I thought how poor they looked, then, wow, did they come good! And farmers can’t be blamed…. I see it’s our fault that there are no Hedgehogs around now, intensive farming and all that, and a tenfold expansion of the badger population has had no effect. Yeh, right! I’d better not blame them for the dead mole at the bottom of the garden, ’cause it would have been a very small starter for a brock.  Moles are so lovely, those amazing front paws and beautiful fur. Wonder how it died?

It’s the weather

William Hebditch - March 29th, 2018.

Oh my, isn’t this weather just plain horrid. A March to forget. I’m fed up with plugging through the mud and of course it’s keeping the soil temperature down and so no Asparagus.

Perhaps the new month will be better. Let’s hope. Going by previous experience, we hope to start cutting ‘gras around week beginning 16th of April. We’ve got quite a lot covered so when we do start we will have a regular daily supply. No doubt it will produce a great big flush when it starts. I think that will be the story of spring from now on. So often when it’s late everything is all ready to burst back into life and there will be lots of flowers out at the same time. We did see the first solitary bees a couple of days ago and I saw a Brimstone butterfly. So spring really is just around the corner.

I wonder if we’ll ever have clarity about Brexit. I was at a NFU meeting yesterday, interesting, but loads of conjecture. It’s just 365 days away now, I still wonder whether we should be off to the continent for our dotage. Will we need a visa to go to our son’s wedding? Or on a more farming thought, will we be able to harvest any crops next year.

Woodcock

William Hebditch - March 14th, 2018.

I saw a woodcock today. The very first one I’ve seen all winter. They are such pretty birds.Just for once British agriculture is not being blamed for the reduced numbers seen here this year. It’s the beastly Russians, well, their bad weather last breeding season. Now we can look forward to swallows and martins. I hope some make it back to New Cross.

Most of the asparagus has now been covered with polythene. Some nice bright sunshine would be good, so that the soil warms quickly and we can start cutting. It looks like it will be a late season, especially if we have this cold snap this weekend. Only a few buds are moving, Ben Vane blackcurrants and Invicta gooseberries. The honey berries are coming into flower. It will be interesting to see if they survive the frosts over the next few days. They were bred in Saskatchewan ( can’t ever pronounce that right) and are supposed to be frost hardy to -5 centigrade.

The other thing we’re looking forward to is our first seakale. We’re blanching it under polythene. The wild stuff, unblanched, is  rather bitter, it’s all those glucosinolates which are sooo good for you. Hopefully our blanched seakale will have most of the good stuff but a little less of the harshness. Time will tell.

We’ve had a tragedy at East Lambrook, the lovely thatched cottage opposite the Rose and Crown burnt down yesterday. Our hearts go out to the owners.