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Focus on quality

August is proving one of our busiest starts to harvest ever, with pickers arriving early and going straight to work.  Our quality control team is seen here checking the fruit in the bins, ensuring that we meet the strict specifications of our new season orders.

The recent rainfall has made the fruit put on plenty of size, and picking will be up to full speed after the August Bank Holiday.

 
Harvest 2018 starts early

 

 

The Bramley apple harvest has begun, at least one week earlier than normal.  Apples in storage from last year have all but run out, so there is strong demand from all our customers for some top quality new season produce.  Pictured is our picking team at work in young Bramley trees on 8th August, where size is good despite the prolonged dry spell.  Other trees have a heavy crop but need more time to achieve optimum size.  Our pear crop looks very promising too, and our customers are anticipating exceptionally sweet and juicy fruit when we start harvesting in September.  We have purchased another 1,000 new bins to cope with a big harvest.

 
New staff members

 

 

In July we welcomed Mike and Tracy Wilshire to our farm team.  Mike is a qualified spray operator and has worked with wife Tracy on a large tree nursery in Kent.  They now live at Warren Farm and bring our team up to full strength, ready for the increased workload of all the new plantings,

 
New Bin Barn Completed

 

 Robert Mitchell Farms - Bin Barn Aerial PhotoRobert Mitchell Farms - Bin Barn Handover Photo

 

Our new bin barn was finally completed on 27th June and handed over by Robert Kendall of Wealden AM.  The disturbed ground behind the barn has been levelled and power harrowed, ready for the next new Bramley orchard to be marked out and staked after harvest.

The aerial photograph, taken with a drone, shows the extensive plantings of new orchards at the North end of the farm.  The barn will hold enough bins to service all the production from these new orchards in a few years' time.

 
Construction of New Barn

 

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On 14th March we began our big project for 2018, a new barn for storage of empty bins.  The building will be capable of holding over 3,000 empty bins in dry, secure conditions during the Winter months.  The life of our bins will be extended and the bins will then be stored in the centre of our newly planted production at the North end of the farm.  The main contractor for the job is Wealden AM and they aim to have completed it by the end of May.  All the steelwork is produced in the UK and is galvanised for longer life.

 
New Orchard Update

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Having got all our new trees planted, they needed water as the dry weather continued throughout May.  Using water bowsers with powerful pumps, Terry and Jack watered every tree twice, then a thick layer of compost was spread around the trees to maintain moist conditions and smother the weeds. We used 278 tonnes of compost, supplied by John Bourne of Newenden and spread by Charles Moon Contracting in just three days.  All the trees have established well and are growing nicely. They will not be allowed to crop in their first year so that all their energy goes into growing the new branches.

 
Tractor Run 2017

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On 23rd April we were pleased to be part of the route for the Broad family annual Tractor Run.  Philip Broad, who organised the event, lead the convoy in his Ford Tractor (pictured left) and was followed by a wonderful assortment of vintage tractors on a 12-mile route around the Kent countryside.  The run finished at Mote Farm, Ivy Hatch with a barbeque and presentation about Demelza House, for which £1,265 was raised from those taking part.  PP Broad Contracting does all the heavy cultivations on our farm, using large, modern machinery.

 
New Faces on the Farm

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In March we said goodbye to Ray Longley (left),

who after 30 years on our farm has moved to

another fruit farm in East Kent.  Ray was a highly

skilled tree pruner, one of our sprayer drivers and

did all the store loading and fruit dispatch on the

yard.  We wish him good luck and will miss his

all-round skill set and sense of humour!

 

 

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Ray's replacement is Jack Underdown (left), who joins us from Chapel Down vineyards in Kent.  Jack is an experienced sprayer driver and forklift operator, and takes on a challenging and varied new role on our farm.  Barry Kneller (right) joined us full-time in March as our mechanic and tractor driver. He recently passed his NPTC hedgecutter test, so now becomes our hedgecutter operator following David's retirement. We will now bring forward our plans for a brand new farm workshop to fully utilise Barry's skills and qualifications.  Welcome to Jack and Barry, we hope you will be happy in our team!

 

 

 
2017 Planting Complete

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The dry weather in March provided the perfect conditions for planting our new Bramley orchard, part of a 3-year replanting scheme at the North end of the farm.  When complete, there will be another 12 hectares of Bramleys in production, adding about 600 tonnes to our annual cropping in the next 5 years. The photo shows Stanislav, Saulius, Sarunas and Graham with team leader Terry Catt bringing his valuable expertise to get a perfect job done. All holes are hand-dug; slow release fertilizer is added to every planting hole; and a good covering of compost will be applied in the next few weeks. The trees came from a professional nursery in the Netherlands; they are now busy making the trees for 2018 and 2019.

 
Winter pruning moving on well

 

 

As we approach mid-March, we have good progress to report with the tree pruning.  The weather has been colder than normal, but fairly dry so we have lost very few days to bad weather.  The pear team is within 2 days of finishing (pictured left, Stanislav; Carol; Saulius and Sarunas) and the apple team is now in the South end of the farm, heading for the last few orchards (pictured right, Rob; Ray; Cristina; Graham and Jeff).  Fruit bud is plentiful and the trees are looking good.  The pear team will turn their attention to planting the new Bramley apple orchard as soon as the soil dries up sufficiently, so the trees will go into warmer soil and establish quickly.

 
Haynes Sales Team Visit

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In February we were pleased to host a visit from the entire sales team from Haynes Agricultural Ltd.  We lined up most of our tractors and equipment to give them a feel for the type of machinery required on today's fruit farms. and gave them an explanation of the growing cycle and cultural practices on our farm.  Carol Penny can be seen demonstrating the use of powered pruners on established pear trees, and Robert can be seen discussing the very tight clearances in the pear orchards, justifying the purchase of our latest T4.95 Narrow tractor for spraying duties.  Other machines on demonstration included our Carraro V70 on pulverising duties, and another New Holland compact tractor with herbicide sprayer working in 2-row bed systems.  The visit was organised by Jeremy Cloude, the Haynes Fruit & Vineyard Machinery Specialist.

 
David retires after 50 years

 

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David Comber started working for the Mitchell family fifty years ago, straight from school.  He first worked at Telston Nursery, Otford and then transferred to Sheet Hill Farm where he became a valuable member of the full-time staff there.  His main tasks included pruning most of the pollinator trees on the farm, driving the high-reach hedgecutter and unloading the picking trains with a Kramer forklift.  At the staff Christmas meal in the Papermakers, Plaxtol we marked his retirement with a collage of photographs over the years and a model tractor depicting his two dogs going along for the ride. We all miss him as he begins his well-earned retirement, but we will still see him around the farm doing some shooting and ferreting.  Good luck David!

 

 
Harvest 2016 gets underway

 

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We finally started Bramley picking on Friday 19th August, about one week later than normal.  Fruit size on these 3-year old trees is excellent, however the rest of the farm needs a few more days and some warm sunshine.  The pickers are all sporting our new hi-viz baseball caps, designed to make tractor movements in the orchard rows much safer.  Two of our regular staff have just completed their forklift training, and both achieved 100% pass rate in the theory exams.  Bogdan Diaconu is seen here operating one of the Kramer forklifts in the orchard.

 
Pruning 2016
Monday, 28 March 2016 12:42

 

pruning update 2016

 

Progress with the winter pruning is surprisingly good, considering the constantly wet weather that we have faced.  At the end of March we will have completed almost 75% of the farm area and cleared most of the wood by pulverising or burning.  With over 70,000 trees to prune every year our team of 9 pruners is constantly under pressure to finish before the trees come into leaf.  The cold Easter period has prolonged dormancy, making the start of the 2016 growing season later than normal.  Nature has a habit of compensating for unusual events, so harvest dates will not be affected very much.

 
Harvesting Chestnut Wood
Monday, 28 March 2016 11:05

 

timber lorry

 

This winter we have been harvesting some chestnut wood at Mill Lane Farm.  Our contractor, Eden Woodlands Ltd. has completed the cutting and the timber has been taken away to a sawmill in East Sussex to make high-quality fencing products.  The cutting process, known as coppicing, leaves a stump in the ground which re-grows several new stems.  These will be fully grown in about 15 years and ready for harvesting again.  This sustainable system of woodland management has been a tradition in Kent for hundreds of years but now features modern machinery like this timber lorry which self-loads 30 tonnes of cut material in about 30 minutes.

 
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