There have been apple orchardson the chalky banks of Noke Street and Gads Hill Farm for generations. Orchards are woven into the landscape and history of Kent.In 2012 we started our contribution to the legacy, planting our first orchards of tannic cider apple trees. These are traditional bitter-sweet and bitter-sharp varieties, bred to give ciders with depth of flavour and character.
There are three cider orchards; all of them are managed extensivel with minimal intervention or use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides. This speaks both to improved biodiversity, but also such trees produce apple juice which is low in nitrogen and better for cider.
The Nook, Gads Hill Farm
This was our first orchard with about 250 trees on an acre of land of heavier loam soils, with some chalk, sand and a bit of clay. The main variety is Dabinett, then Harry Masters Jersey, Somerset Redstreak, Yarlington Mill and Colonel Vaughn and they have all grown strongly on vigorous, half standard MM106 and M111 root stocks. The orchard is enclosed on three sides by woodland, mainly Sweet Chestnut coppice. We have left an area completely unplanted and together it all makes good habitat. It 2018 we had an abundance of lady birds and damselflies.
Artist’s Studio, Gads Hill Farm
This is our largest orchard, planted between 2012 and 2016. Apple varieties are Kingston Black, Harry Masters Jersey, Laxton Superb, Yarlington Mill and Somerset Redstreak. The soils are light and chalky, and the orchard is exposed to sun and wind. It makes for a long growing season and apples with a very high sugar content, but the soils are more prone to drought. This is becoming less of an issue now the vigorous root stocks have established.
Like all the cider orchards it is extensively managed and low nutrient. Its mowed twice a year; first in spring, but then not until early autumn, to provide wildlife habitat in the longer grasses over spring and summer. In mid-summer you can hear the long grass in this orchard humming with life. In 2020 we will be working on a project to improve the diversity of the grass and wildflower species in the orchard, to provide further habitat to insects and birds.