April update: a slice of Provence has been bought to Essex…

Pete Thompson07 May 2021

April has been a busy month for us on the farm, but in a slightly different way to usual. One exciting step forward has been finishing planting our latest olive grove, a 5-acre planting of various varieties in partnership with our friends at Belazu. On a gentle South facing slope over-looking Hamford Water it really does now feel like a little corner of Provence has arrived in Essex, all we need now is some warmer weather! The grove is planted in the style of an old-fashioned orchard and a multi-species sward sown underneath to encourage wildlife the possible growth of something tasty for livestock to graze. The new hedge to the North of the grove is also part of our Winter/Spring tree and hedge planting program across the farm, which has seen 100s of metres of hedging and 100s of trees planted. With the lack of rain (so much for April showers!) seen since the snowfall, we have our work cut out keeping them all watered.

Olive grove

The end of the month usually sees us frantically busy harvesting enough spring onions for the bank holiday weekend. This year is slightly different as a lot of the restaurants we supply are still shut and the spring onions aren’t actually ready yet! As with many plants much of their growth is done at night and we need night temperatures of 10 degrees plus compared to the near freezing and frosty nights we have endured instead. The frost has already done for much of this year’s apricot crop and the cold weather also means national shortages of asparagus and strawberries, so we can’t wait for it to warm up (not just so we can have a pint in a pub garden without shivering).

Finally, it is always a joy to see the return of the migrating birds. Swallows, house martins and cuckoos are back and we are keeping our fingers crossed that we hear the call of the turtle doves on the farm again this summer. Other birds are all seeking out their nest sites (the old stable is a favourite for the swallows), and we have at least two new families of fox cubs on the farm so nature is definitely around.

Old barn

An ecology survey on the farm has also revealed healthy common and great crested newt populations and we are looking forward to the butterflies emerging – apparently there are large numbers of painted ladies crossing Spain so if the winds eventually veer round from the current cold North & East to the South, we may enjoy a good year for them. We will be sure to keep you updated on the wildlife we spot around the farm.

Eat well,

Pete