Orchards are woven into the landscape, history and mythology of Kent and there have been apples grown on the chalky banks of Noke Street and Gads Hill Farm for generations. In 2012 Longtail's first orchard of tannic cider apple trees was planted. These are traditional bitter-sweet and bitter-sharp apple varieties, bred to give ciders with depth of flavour and character.
There are now three cider orchards; all of them are managed extensively with minimal intervention or use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides. This is to encourage biodiversity, but also such trees produce apple juice which is low in nitrogen and better for cider making.
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 Vaughan 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. Part of the orchard is left unplanted and allowed to grow wild. Together it all makes good habitat and in summer the orchard is full of lady birds and damsel flies.
Artist’s Studio, Gads Hill Farm
This is the 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 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.
The orchards are extensively managed and low nutrient. They are mowed twice a year; first in spring, but then not until early late summer, 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 autumn 2020 we plan to over sow with a mixed grass and wildflower seed mix, to provide further habitat to insects and birds.