Apple growing at Blackmoor Estate
PUBLISHED: 11:54 06 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:54 06 November 2015
Alton's rich and fertile soil has seen apple growing taking place on the Blackmoor Estate for 95 years. Natalie French spends a day in the orchards to see what business is like today
Blackmoor Estate is a family-run farm just outside Alton. It’s one of only three remaining commercial growers in Hampshire, supplying apples, pears and cherries to many supermarkets, and fruit trees and plants to many gardeners. But what is it that makes this delightful sliver of Hampshire so good for growing apples? “Along with the cool climate and altitude, the main thing is the soil,” says Managing Director, William Wolmer.
“Traditionally, the area from Alton to Farnham was a hop growing area. It was my great grandfather who had the idea, in the 1920s, when he went to Kent on business for the Hop Marketing Board. He saw they were growing tops fruits on similar soil and thought why not? 95 years later we are yielding 2000 tonnes!”
The orchard currently grows 14 different varieties, “The biggest two are Cox and Braeburn – a classic, and a modern bi-coloured variety,” explains William. The latter are grown on modern ‘vineyard-style’ trellised orchards to help meet the demand for substituting imported apples with home grown produce.
However, it’s not just apples that grace the orchards, “We have three varieties of pears – Conference, Comice and Concorde and a large cherry orchard that grows seven varieties of cherry,” says William. “We produced 30 tonnes of cherries last year and next year we’re looking at 50 tonnes” Many people may have sampled these from Winchester Farmer’s Market.
“We also have Blackmoor Nurseries, where we sell fruit trees and plants online for those wishing to grow their own.”
Whilst the orchard is not organic, all the fruit at Blackmoor is grown to the high environmental standard of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), which can spotted in the supermarket by the LEAF Marque logo.
Conservation is a high priority on the Estate, with numerous projects in place including a research trial to provide a habitat for native bees and butterflies.
“Flower strips are being planted to encourage wild bees, particularly in the periods before and after apple blossom. We depend on the bees for pollination and they are up to 300 times more effective than honey bees.”
The Estate also conducted a pioneering experiment to investigate the carbon footprint of its apple production. “A few years ago I was funded by South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) to be a sector champion for top fruit and climate change,” says William. “What that involved was doing some work on carbon foot-printing our orchards and looking at ways of reducing the carbon footprint of both our growing and our apple storage and grading.
“One of the things that was most interesting to us, was that we discovered our direction of travel in fruit growing was to reduce our carbon footprint anyway. Several years ago we used to plant quite extensively with say 1000 trees to the hectare. Now we are planting more intensively, nearly 3000 plants per hectare. We did that for reasons of gaining efficiency, of increasing productivity and being competitive in the industry. The beneficial side effect of that is that the carbon footprint per bin of apples or per kilo of apples on the supermarket shelf is considerably lower, because we are getting the higher yield relative to the inputs into the orchard.
“Consumers and retailers now are interested in the carbon footprint of the products they buy, so I think that provides a great opportunity for growers like ourselves to provide produce for the supermarket shelf that shouts about the fact that we are reducing the carbon footprint of that produce.”
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