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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

 

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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.

 
New forklift completes the harvest fleet
Sunday, 03 January 2016 18:35

We have just added a third Kramer rough-terrain forklift to our handling fleet. This prompted Kramer to issue the following Press Release:

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KENT FRUIT GROWER TAKES DELIVERY OF THE VERY FIRST KRAMER 5065 WHEELED LOADER IN THE UK

A family owned fruit growing business in Kent has added a third Kramer wheeled loader to its machinery fleet with the recent purchase of a 5065, the very first of this new model to be delivered to a UK customer.

Robert Mitchell Farms of Sevenoaks specialises in growing Bramley apples on its 90 Ha holding, most of which are sold to the processing trade. The combination of good soil and climate ensures an annual production of some 3000 tonne of high quality apples plus 500 tonne of Conference pears which are grown especially for Sainsburys.

In 2008, the farm introduced a picking train system to harvest its apple crop which, once a pair of Kramer 350 compact wheeled loaders had been added, resulted in a super-efficient method with the Kramer machines unloading the picking trains at a series of collection points in the orchards.

Commenting on the Kramer fleet, Robert Mitchell said: "We fell in love with the machines the minute we had one on demo as they do everything we need. They are also very easy to drive, quiet in operation, and have superb all-round visibility for safe working."

The new 5065 machine, supplied through Mainserve Engineers, has now replaced an ageing and increasingly unreliable rough terrain forklift to complete the farm's fully integrated harvesting system. It is used to load the full bins, two at a time, onto large trailers for transport to the main yard where they are stacked prior to customer collection.

Kramer's 5065 model is powered by a water cooled Yanmar diesel engine developing 35 kW (48 hp) and features 4-wheel drive and steer, hydrostatic transmission and a single joystick control for all hydraulic and drive functions. The machine can handle a payload of up to 2 tonne in the transport position and has a maximum lift height of 3050 mm.

 
Harvest 2015
Sunday, 18 October 2015 11:37

 

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The 2015 harvest was certainly one of our most challenging due to the English weather.  Cool temperatures and a lack of sunshine in July/August made many fruits smaller than usual, reducing overall yields and delaying harvest dates for some orchards. Just as we got going, heavy rain turned our orchards to mud and interrupted many picking days. Even our four wheel drive tractors struggled on some of the hills. Overall, the apples were down on estimate but quality was good.  Our pears surprised us, with better yield than expected and excellent shape and skin finish.

We had our maximum number of pickers in the accommodation and therefore harvested in good time, before fruit quality worsened.  At the end, we did a final pick for cider/juice so that nothing was wasted and the orchards have a very bare look now.

 
Best cobnut crop for a decade
Sunday, 07 September 2014 17:56

 

 

Saturday 6th September was our final day of cobnut harvesting.  The fruit was large, clean and excellent quality so it was a race against time to complete harvesting before the crop fell from the trees.

We ended up with over 7.5 tonnes of nuts, seen here in cold storage before being pressed for the oil content.  This is the heaviest crop for over a decade, rewarding all our hard work in pruning and spraying.

Our cobnuts are pressed for oil at Hurstwood Farm and are also available fresh from The Hop Shop at Shoreham. Some are even exported to Spain!

 
Super Supervisor course
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 16:31

 

Supervisor Training Course 1Supervisor Training Course 3Supervisor Training Course 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concordia (UK) Ltd ran a "Super Supervisor" course on our farm at the beginning of harvest. Led by Ken Duckett, this was for all supervisors both experienced and brand new. We were joined by 3 supervisors from another Concordia farm in Essex.  A detailed examination of the role of the supervisor within the team was brought to life using team challenges and buckets of Lego bricks!  Feedback from the course has been excellent, giving new insights for the long and challenging harvest ahead.

 
2014 harvest starts early
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:45

Robert Mitchell Farms 2014 Picking Team 

 

Bramley apple picking began on 13th August, approximately one week earlier than usual.  Size and quality in the first few orchards has been excellent, with yields slightly above our initial estimates.  In the picture is one of the early teams using the new picking trains bought this year.  More pickers are arriving every day, building up to our maximum strength of 45 pickers working in 5 teams.

 
Spreading compost
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 20:02

 

Broad Seer Compost Spreading

 

Now that our new trees are waking up from their cold storage, they will develop very quickly and have a need for both nutrition and moisture.  They were all planted with special slow-release fertilizer which should feed them for 2 years, and the earlier rainfall has topped up the soil moisture.  Retaining this moisture for the delicate tree roots is a challenge in hot weather, so instead of our usual chopped straw we have spread this compost around the trees to maintain moist conditions and improve soil organic matter.

Produced at Blaise Farm in West Malling, this is the contents of household "green bins" collected, composted and refined under carefully controlled conditions.  Almost 150 tonnes of compost have been spread on this 4 hectare orchard by our contractor, Bournes of Newenden.

 
Crop prospects for 2014
Friday, 25 April 2014 19:08

 

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Compared with last year, the 2014 season is running about 3 weeks early.  The pears have flowered in good sunny weather, with lots of bee and insect activity.  Their work is now clearly visible, with an excellent initial set of tiny pear fruitlets standing upright in their thousands.  Over time, these thick clusters will thin naturally and the growing fruitlets will turn over to the hanging position.

The apples are going through the same process, but some way behind the pears.  Right now they are in full bloom, with probably the best display of flower we have ever seen.  It will be late June before we can start to predict the crop loads and in the meantime our spray operators have an important job to keep the developing crop free from insects and fungal diseases.

 
Replanting Bramley orchard
Friday, 25 April 2014 18:43

 

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When we decided to grub out Broad Seer Bramleys we did not expect the wettest winter on record! Grubbing and replanting in the same year is always challenging, and this project has certainly tested our patience.  When ground conditions finally dried up we finished burning the old trees and got our contractor PP Broad to do the cultivations.

In 3 days the 4 hectare field was ploughed, subsoiled and power harrowed to a smooth finish.  Ray and Jeff quickly marked out the tree positions, followed by standing up the new stakes in perfectly straight lines.  Terry and Dave did the knocking in while Bogdan, Christina and Robert planted and guarded the trees.  As we near completion of this project, the rains have returned and watered in the new trees.  There will be continued activity throughout the summer as we tie, spray and mulch the new trees.  As Broad Seer is on the central road through the farm, it will get plenty of visitors and is a project we can all be proud of.

 
Welcome Christina
Sunday, 26 January 2014 18:10

 

In January we expanded our winter team to cope with the huge pruning task and the orchard replanting. Christina from Romania, who had worked on the farm during harvest, came back as a trainee pruner and has been settling in well using the Electrocoup electronic secateurs. Christina is pictured here with Robert, pruning in Golding Hop orchard.

 
Orchard Replanting
Sunday, 26 January 2014 17:56

 

Grubbing

After harvest we decided that one of our Bramley orchards had reached the end of it's working life. Our newly purchased John Deere tractor and grubbing fork (operated by Terry Catt) started work and most of the trees have been grubbed and burned. Unfortunately the weather turned wet before Christmas and the job has been on hold ever since. We have the new trees, stakes and rabbit guards all ready for when the weather improves. This orchard is being replanted with 4 hectares of modern Bramley trees and should be in production by 2019.

 

 
Top Quality Apple Crop
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 20:06

 

The hot, dry summer was ideal for top quality apples as the sunshine produced high sugar levels and rapid cell development. As harvest progresses, heavy yields of high quality apples have become the story of 2013, while pear yields have been very disappointing. One very successful variety this year has been the traditional Egremont Russet, growing large and uniformly russeted fruit for the supermarket trade.

 

The picture shows one of our picking teams nearing the end of a hard day Russet picking.

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To cope with the challenge of a busy harvest, we have invested in more new tractors and a Kramer 350 rough-terrain forklift to unload the picking trains. Both are seen at work in one of our best Bramley orchards.

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