We literally chose the best late September morning to go visit Davina at Hill Farm Orchards, nestled in the Meon Valley within the boundaries of the South Downs National Park (another great supplier of UK local produce to Farmers Choice). We went along to check on how this seasons Braeburns were coming along, the sun came out for us as we strolled around the 150 acres (not all of it…I think we would still be going if we did) and Davina enthusiastically gave us the past, present and future rundown of the orchard.
Davina starts by telling us that the farm was first planted as an orchard in 1950’s. Her father worked at the farm in the 80’s/90’s as a pick your own of plums, strawberries and a cherry orchard. Unfortunately with the changes in consumer habits (brought about by the arrival of the supermarkets), the farm had to adapt to meet the modern fruit market place and pick your own was stopped. Today they grow the best fruit outside of Kent (as per the national fruit show awards 2013 and we will try again this year).
Literally, as far as the eye can see is row after row of heavily laden apple trees, all lined up like soldiers on parade! Davina went on to tell us that they fill 3000 bins a year of apples that’s 1 tonne per 3 bins.
The farm has just planted out a new section of the orchard, Davina explained that the apple trees are left for a couple years before taking a commercial crop, if you have fruit trees it’s always best to leave it for the first year, take a little fruit off to stabilise the tree in the second year. If you do that you should get a healthy producing tree that could last anything up 20 – 25 years (as some of her trees are that old). There is a section in the orchard of Pear trees, 60 year old pear trees that continually produce good fruit.
After the harvest is over, Davina and two colleagues will go around the orchard and prune every tree and this can take them up to March. This is important to the trees health, and for its ability to produce another excellent crop.
(Here’s a little tip if you have fruit trees at home – Davina explained that pruning should only be done when the leaves have all fallen from the trees, about November, but remember if you cut back hard it will grow hard!)
Hill Farm opened their doors this year for their first Open Day as part of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming http://www.leafuk.org/leaf). On that one day they saw 300 people visit the farm. There was a market area with local trade, crafts and produce. There was also an opportunity to see the machinery and have a tractor ride, everything to get the young and older guest involved.
Davina explained that future plans for Hill Farm Orchard include a grand scale allotment. Can’t wait to go back and see how that comes along.
Hill Farm Orchards also supply to Hill Farm Juice – right next door. The apples are crushed and gently pressed on site to extract the juice. The juice is bottled on site to lock in the orchard-fresh taste – no additives except for vitamin C which is used as an anti-oxidant. This is only added to stop the juice turning brown (just like when you cut up an apple).
This is now available online.