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New Orchard Update

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Having got all our new trees planted, they needed water as the dry weather continued throughout May.  Using water bowsers with powerful pumps, Terry and Jack watered every tree twice, then a thick layer of compost was spread around the trees to maintain moist conditions and smother the weeds. We used 278 tonnes of compost, supplied by John Bourne of Newenden and spread by Charles Moon Contracting in just three days.  All the trees have established well and are growing nicely. They will not be allowed to crop in their first year so that all their energy goes into growing the new branches.

 
Tractor Run 2017

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On 23rd April we were pleased to be part of the route for the Broad family annual Tractor Run.  Philip Broad, who organised the event, lead the convoy in his Ford Tractor (pictured left) and was followed by a wonderful assortment of vintage tractors on a 12-mile route around the Kent countryside.  The run finished at Mote Farm, Ivy Hatch with a barbeque and presentation about Demelza House, for which £1,265 was raised from those taking part.  PP Broad Contracting does all the heavy cultivations on our farm, using large, modern machinery.

 
New Faces on the Farm

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In March we said goodbye to Ray Longley (left),

who after 30 years on our farm has moved to

another fruit farm in East Kent.  Ray was a highly

skilled tree pruner, one of our sprayer drivers and

did all the store loading and fruit dispatch on the

yard.  We wish him good luck and will miss his

all-round skill set and sense of humour!

 

 

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Ray's replacement is Jack Underdown (left), who joins us from Chapel Down vineyards in Kent.  Jack is an experienced sprayer driver and forklift operator, and takes on a challenging and varied new role on our farm.  Barry Kneller (right) joined us full-time in March as our mechanic and tractor driver. He recently passed his NPTC hedgecutter test, so now becomes our hedgecutter operator following David's retirement. We will now bring forward our plans for a brand new farm workshop to fully utilise Barry's skills and qualifications.  Welcome to Jack and Barry, we hope you will be happy in our team!

 

 

 
2017 Planting Complete

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The dry weather in March provided the perfect conditions for planting our new Bramley orchard, part of a 3-year replanting scheme at the North end of the farm.  When complete, there will be another 12 hectares of Bramleys in production, adding about 600 tonnes to our annual cropping in the next 5 years. The photo shows Stanislav, Saulius, Sarunas and Graham with team leader Terry Catt bringing his valuable expertise to get a perfect job done. All holes are hand-dug; slow release fertilizer is added to every planting hole; and a good covering of compost will be applied in the next few weeks. The trees came from a professional nursery in the Netherlands; they are now busy making the trees for 2018 and 2019.

 
Winter pruning moving on well

 

 

As we approach mid-March, we have good progress to report with the tree pruning.  The weather has been colder than normal, but fairly dry so we have lost very few days to bad weather.  The pear team is within 2 days of finishing (pictured left, Stanislav; Carol; Saulius and Sarunas) and the apple team is now in the South end of the farm, heading for the last few orchards (pictured right, Rob; Ray; Cristina; Graham and Jeff).  Fruit bud is plentiful and the trees are looking good.  The pear team will turn their attention to planting the new Bramley apple orchard as soon as the soil dries up sufficiently, so the trees will go into warmer soil and establish quickly.

 
Haynes Sales Team Visit

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In February we were pleased to host a visit from the entire sales team from Haynes Agricultural Ltd.  We lined up most of our tractors and equipment to give them a feel for the type of machinery required on today's fruit farms. and gave them an explanation of the growing cycle and cultural practices on our farm.  Carol Penny can be seen demonstrating the use of powered pruners on established pear trees, and Robert can be seen discussing the very tight clearances in the pear orchards, justifying the purchase of our latest T4.95 Narrow tractor for spraying duties.  Other machines on demonstration included our Carraro V70 on pulverising duties, and another New Holland compact tractor with herbicide sprayer working in 2-row bed systems.  The visit was organised by Jeremy Cloude, the Haynes Fruit & Vineyard Machinery Specialist.

 
David retires after 50 years

 

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David Comber started working for the Mitchell family fifty years ago, straight from school.  He first worked at Telston Nursery, Otford and then transferred to Sheet Hill Farm where he became a valuable member of the full-time staff there.  His main tasks included pruning most of the pollinator trees on the farm, driving the high-reach hedgecutter and unloading the picking trains with a Kramer forklift.  At the staff Christmas meal in the Papermakers, Plaxtol we marked his retirement with a collage of photographs over the years and a model tractor depicting his two dogs going along for the ride. We all miss him as he begins his well-earned retirement, but we will still see him around the farm doing some shooting and ferreting.  Good luck David!

 

 
Harvest 2016 gets underway

 

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We finally started Bramley picking on Friday 19th August, about one week later than normal.  Fruit size on these 3-year old trees is excellent, however the rest of the farm needs a few more days and some warm sunshine.  The pickers are all sporting our new hi-viz baseball caps, designed to make tractor movements in the orchard rows much safer.  Two of our regular staff have just completed their forklift training, and both achieved 100% pass rate in the theory exams.  Bogdan Diaconu is seen here operating one of the Kramer forklifts in the orchard.

 
Pruning 2016
Monday, 28 March 2016 12:42

 

pruning update 2016

 

Progress with the winter pruning is surprisingly good, considering the constantly wet weather that we have faced.  At the end of March we will have completed almost 75% of the farm area and cleared most of the wood by pulverising or burning.  With over 70,000 trees to prune every year our team of 9 pruners is constantly under pressure to finish before the trees come into leaf.  The cold Easter period has prolonged dormancy, making the start of the 2016 growing season later than normal.  Nature has a habit of compensating for unusual events, so harvest dates will not be affected very much.

 
Harvesting Chestnut Wood
Monday, 28 March 2016 11:05

 

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This winter we have been harvesting some chestnut wood at Mill Lane Farm.  Our contractor, Eden Woodlands Ltd. has completed the cutting and the timber has been taken away to a sawmill in East Sussex to make high-quality fencing products.  The cutting process, known as coppicing, leaves a stump in the ground which re-grows several new stems.  These will be fully grown in about 15 years and ready for harvesting again.  This sustainable system of woodland management has been a tradition in Kent for hundreds of years but now features modern machinery like this timber lorry which self-loads 30 tonnes of cut material in about 30 minutes.

 
New forklift completes the harvest fleet
Sunday, 03 January 2016 18:35

We have just added a third Kramer rough-terrain forklift to our handling fleet. This prompted Kramer to issue the following Press Release:

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KENT FRUIT GROWER TAKES DELIVERY OF THE VERY FIRST KRAMER 5065 WHEELED LOADER IN THE UK

A family owned fruit growing business in Kent has added a third Kramer wheeled loader to its machinery fleet with the recent purchase of a 5065, the very first of this new model to be delivered to a UK customer.

Robert Mitchell Farms of Sevenoaks specialises in growing Bramley apples on its 90 Ha holding, most of which are sold to the processing trade. The combination of good soil and climate ensures an annual production of some 3000 tonne of high quality apples plus 500 tonne of Conference pears which are grown especially for Sainsburys.

In 2008, the farm introduced a picking train system to harvest its apple crop which, once a pair of Kramer 350 compact wheeled loaders had been added, resulted in a super-efficient method with the Kramer machines unloading the picking trains at a series of collection points in the orchards.

Commenting on the Kramer fleet, Robert Mitchell said: "We fell in love with the machines the minute we had one on demo as they do everything we need. They are also very easy to drive, quiet in operation, and have superb all-round visibility for safe working."

The new 5065 machine, supplied through Mainserve Engineers, has now replaced an ageing and increasingly unreliable rough terrain forklift to complete the farm's fully integrated harvesting system. It is used to load the full bins, two at a time, onto large trailers for transport to the main yard where they are stacked prior to customer collection.

Kramer's 5065 model is powered by a water cooled Yanmar diesel engine developing 35 kW (48 hp) and features 4-wheel drive and steer, hydrostatic transmission and a single joystick control for all hydraulic and drive functions. The machine can handle a payload of up to 2 tonne in the transport position and has a maximum lift height of 3050 mm.

 
Harvest 2015
Sunday, 18 October 2015 11:37

 

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The 2015 harvest was certainly one of our most challenging due to the English weather.  Cool temperatures and a lack of sunshine in July/August made many fruits smaller than usual, reducing overall yields and delaying harvest dates for some orchards. Just as we got going, heavy rain turned our orchards to mud and interrupted many picking days. Even our four wheel drive tractors struggled on some of the hills. Overall, the apples were down on estimate but quality was good.  Our pears surprised us, with better yield than expected and excellent shape and skin finish.

We had our maximum number of pickers in the accommodation and therefore harvested in good time, before fruit quality worsened.  At the end, we did a final pick for cider/juice so that nothing was wasted and the orchards have a very bare look now.

 
Best cobnut crop for a decade
Sunday, 07 September 2014 17:56

 

 

Saturday 6th September was our final day of cobnut harvesting.  The fruit was large, clean and excellent quality so it was a race against time to complete harvesting before the crop fell from the trees.

We ended up with over 7.5 tonnes of nuts, seen here in cold storage before being pressed for the oil content.  This is the heaviest crop for over a decade, rewarding all our hard work in pruning and spraying.

Our cobnuts are pressed for oil at Hurstwood Farm and are also available fresh from The Hop Shop at Shoreham. Some are even exported to Spain!

 
Super Supervisor course
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 16:31

 

Supervisor Training Course 1Supervisor Training Course 3Supervisor Training Course 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concordia (UK) Ltd ran a "Super Supervisor" course on our farm at the beginning of harvest. Led by Ken Duckett, this was for all supervisors both experienced and brand new. We were joined by 3 supervisors from another Concordia farm in Essex.  A detailed examination of the role of the supervisor within the team was brought to life using team challenges and buckets of Lego bricks!  Feedback from the course has been excellent, giving new insights for the long and challenging harvest ahead.

 
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.

 
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