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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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No more potholes!
Saturday, 01 June 2013 15:20

All the farm roads have taken a beating during the cold, wet Winter.  It was therefore time to call our road contractors, Wilson Tarmac from Headcorn, to lay a new surface on the worst section at Sheet Hill Farm.  The base was dug out and re-profiled, then a new tarmac surface was laid in record time.  The result is a permanent improvement, and it will be a smooth ride for the 1,500 bins of fruit that are carted from this part of the farm every harvest.

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New Bins
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 16:13

 

Keeping our large stock of wooden fruit bins in good condition is always a big challenge. There comes a point where repairs become impossible or uneconomic, so for 2012 we purchased about 1,000 new bins from a specialist factory in Northern Ireland. Seen here in action, the new bins were easy to handle and kept the fruit in top condition during transit to the factory.

During the winter empty bins begin to be brought back to the farm, where they are checked, sorted and repaired ready for use next year. We look forward to purchasing more new bins to handle our increasing production of apples and pears.

 
Harvest 2012
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 15:38

 

Harvest 2012 is best described as "disappointing" in terms of crop yields, due to the cold, wet weather during flowering and the crucial fruit development period.

Despite looking good on the trees, crops harvested consistently failed to come up to estimates and we finished the season with only 58% of last year's bumper harvest. This shortage of fruit affected our customers and also our pickers who left early having had a short work period. However size and quality were excellent, with fruit scab well under control in a difficult season.

This story was repeated over most of the UK fruit growing areas and will mean higher prices and shortages until next harvest. We are already pruning the trees and booking our pickers for next harvest, so we all hope for better news in 2013.

 
Loader Training

 

We have just completed training and certification for our WEIDEMANN loading shovel, all arranged through East Malling Short Courses.  Four operators are now fully trained on this versatile and unique machine, using a variety of front attachments to shift bins, bales, prunings and stone.  The Weidemann is a key element of our bin logistics at harvest time, loading about 8000 bins each season.  Safe, efficient operation is vital as we get into another busy harvest.

 

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See our video for winter 2012

 
Orchard Management

 

The weather in March has been unusually warm and dry, bringing dormancy to an end and causing the buds to burst.  The tree roots need optimal soil conditions to grow, so this is the time to put on fertilizer and check the acidity of the soil. Testing showed an area of the farm with an increased acidity level. The dry ground conditions allowed our contractors to spread limestone on the affected areas, which should last for several years.

 

 
Winter Chill - February 2012

 

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At last we have had some snow, and proper winter temperatures. Fruit trees need a good period of cold weather to keep the buds dormant and build their strength for later. Overwintering pests are less likely to survive in cold conditions, reducing the need for expensive sprays in the summer. The frozen ground conditions are also ideal for working with heavy machinery such as hedgecutters and prunings sweepers, doing their jobs without leaving a mark on the soil. Pruning is going well, with almost half the farm now completed.

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National Fruit Show 2011

 

Russet 1st prize large 

The National Fruit Show was held at Detling showground on the 19th - 20th October this year.

As it was our first year as Robert Mitchell Farms we decided to enter some of our fruit in the competition classes.

Surprisingly we were very successful; winning 1st prize for Egremont Russet apples and winning the heaviest apple competition with our Bramleys, one of which weighed in at 1.01 kilos. We gained 2nd prize for our cobnuts and 3rd prize for our heaviest pears.

Alex, our son, won 2nd prize in the Novice category with his Golden Delicious apple entry.

It was a very successful show; showcasing the wonderful fruit that can be produced in this country.

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Russet Prize 2011Russet Displayed 2011Cobnut Prize 2011Novice Class Prize

 
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