Brambletye Fields (comprising Weirwood Field, Middle Field and Church View Field) have been farmed biodynamically by Tablehurst Farm for the last 11 years. Over this time the fields have been fenced, new hedges have been planted and the fields have been brought into organic/biodynamic status. During this time, the majority of the three fields have been part of the farm’s arable rotation, although smaller areas of wetland in Middle and Church View Fields have been left undisturbed. They have also regularly been grazed by sheep and cattle. Due to the wet and cold summer of 2012, the arable yield of Church View Field (the only one of the three fields with an arable crop in 2012) was low (1t/ha), although baking quality was very high with over 15% protein (variety Paragon). The wet autumn that followed meant that equipment could not get on the land, meaning that Church View Field was left as overwinter stubble after the wheat harvest. In contrast, Weirwood and Middle were amongst the highest yielding fields cut for forage last year.
Revised management plan
Weather conditions locally in recent years have led the farm to review its arable and grassland management plans. In particular, it has been decided that wetter areas of the farm should be re-established as permanent grassland. This will be the case with the Brambletye Fields, two of which have already been sown with a mixture of different grasses, white clovers and red clover. We are planning to establish permanent grass/ clover mix, including chicory and an herb mixture, on Church View next spring (2014).
The fields are now part of the farm’s overall grassland management plan and are sprayed twice a year with the biodynamic preparations. They receive compost at least once every three years, with applications of 500 and CPP (Cow Pit Preparation) in the intervening years to ensure that they receive some compost every year. The fields were also included in the annual application of the Three Kings’ preparation.
Education, training and research
The farm has a strong commitment to training biodynamic farmers and gardeners, and formally supports the Biodynamic Association’s Apprenticeship scheme as well as the biodynamic training provided by Emerson College. The farm currently has 4 apprentices on the BDA scheme (3 on the farm and one in the garden). The farm ensures that the apprentices follow the full training programme as set out by the BDA, including allowing paid time each week to undertake and complete assignments. The farm also hosts apprentice training weekends for all those registered on the BDA scheme. Recent apprentices from Tablehurst have gone on to secure permanent positions on farms and gardens in the UK and continental Europe. Farm staff also teach on the Emerson College BD training, using all aspects of Tablehurst for field studies and practical training. Peter Brown, a Director of Tablehurst Farm, is currently Chair of the Biodynamic Association and is heavily involved in the Natural Beekeeping Trust. His activities are supported spiritually and financially by Tablehurst Farm.
Tablehurst Farm has hosted a number of school, college and special interest visits this year. While each visit is different, Tablehurst typically provides a guided tour of the farm with varying levels of technical detail, depending on the audience. There have also been a series of walks open to the public, each run by one of the farmers or gardeners and each concentrating on different aspects of the farm. One such group visited Brambletye Fields this year, as part of a grassland and conservation tour. In addition, the fields have been the focus of study sessions by the Tablehurst farmers.
Finally, Tablehurst Farm has been a ‘community partner’ in a number of research projects funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. These projects, involving farm & garden staff and community volunteers, have involved researching what it is to be part of a community supported farming initiative. The research has involved a number of exchange visits with, most recently, members of farming communities in London (Spitalfields City Farm) and Manchester (Young Womens’ Health Project allotment gardeners) staying at Tablehurst and experiencing biodynamic community farming. One outcome of this has been training sessions for young farmers, while two Portland ewes have been gifted to Spitalfields City Farm by the Tablehurst farmers.
David Junghans is Managing Director of Tablehurst Farm Ltd.
Neil Ravenscroft is Chair of Tablehurst Farm Management Group and Professor of Land Economy in the School of Environment and Technology at the Univesity of Brighton.