We’re bang in the middle of phase two of our agroforestry planting at the moment.
Ben Raskin, our agroforestry manager, brings us up to speed.
The trees we put in last year did not have an easy start thanks to the very warm and dry spring. Since we haven’t got a irrigation system set up for them, we just had to hope they didn’t dry out too much and were able to get established. Luckily almost all of them survived.
Working with nature
In Barn Field where some of the more unusual fruit and nut trees are we are now in the process of interplanting a lot of the tree fruit with bush fruit. The aim is to mimic natural systems and make the most of the space. In nature you have large trees, small trees and bushes, and then an understory of grass or woodland plants. We aren’t trying to copy exactly but to take inspiration from natural systems to improve our productivity and biodiversity.
Real life field labs
In true Helen Browning style we are being very experimental and trialling a range of unusual crops. Some may prove so successful that we plant larger areas; others may just supply the pub here at the farm and Helen Browning’s Chop House in Swindon. Some examples of our more unusual varieties are goji berries, honey berries, sea buckthorn, as well as more familiar fruit like raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and Tayberries. We’re not sure how well some of them will like our soil and micro climate, but if they do then we’re sure we can sell them!
The other big job we have going on at the moment is mulching. Keeping the base of our fruit trees and bushes free from weeds is really important. We don’t want to use plastic on the farm if we can help it, so we’re attacking the problem in two ways. We start with hessian mulch mat which provides a 50cm cubed cover around each plant, on top of this we pile up a good 10cm layer of woodchip mulch. This stops weeds growing up around the plants, though the mulch soon disappears and needs to be reapplied each year. After three or four years the larger trees can cope on their own but we will need to keep mulching the bushes for most of their life.
The woodchip has another benefit by providing organic matter to feed our soil organisms. We’re monitoring how this is helping us by being part of an Innovative Farmers field lab with other fruit growers. These changes take a long time to make a difference but we will be looking at soil health indicators (such as counting worms and soil testing), as well as plant growth and eventual yield from individual plants.
It’s great to be planting trees, and I’ve been getting help both from our regular agroforesty worker Paul and from our interns Marina and William who are keen to learn more about the farming side to compliment their work in the pub.