Huxhams Cross Farm is found on the edge of the Dartington Hall Estate near Totnes in Devon. It covers 34 acres of land that was bought by the Biodynamic Land Trust in 2015. The Trust holds land in perpetuity for sustainable food production. The Apricot Centre team are the first tenants of the farm and are developing it from a bare collection of 5 fields ,that have been down to conventional barley for the last 40 year, to a rich and diverse food producing farm. The farm is part of the new learning campus on the Dartington Hall Estate.
The farm was designed using the permaulture methodolgy, with an aim to produce delicious biodynamic food, vegetables, fruit, eggs, preserves and flour. The farm also supports wildlife biodiversity and has been designed to be low carbon. In the spring of 2017 we planted over 1000 fruit trees and bushes, 3000 agroforestry trees, established the beginning of the vegetable production, introduce a flock of 130 hens, and welcomed two cows called Damson and Daffodil on to the farm.
The farm is a learning demonstration of how we weave together the practices of biodynamic food production, permaculture design and agroforestry to create a beautiful, resilient and sustainable farm.
The Fruit: We grow successional soft fruit and top fruit, starting in May we continually pick until late October.
We grow: Rhubarb, strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry, black, red and white currants, blueberrys, grapes, blackberry, apricots, greengages and wide varity of plums, damsons, pears, quince, apples and finally medlars.
Agroforestry Field: In the winter of 2016/7 we planted 600 fruit trees as part of an agroforestry project on the Dartington Hall Estate. The 50 acre Broadlears field is used for forage crops for the Dartington Dairy farmers for their goat herd. We planted our main crop apple trees on 20 meter spacing's in a 1/3rd of this field. The other 1/3 is planted with Luscombe Elderflower and the final 1/3 Sechuan peppers.
The Vegetables: we grow 8 acres of vegetables in a south facing field called Billany. This is broken up into smaller sections using agroforestry rows of hazel planted on the contour currently at 28 m spacings. The hazel provides wind shelter, functional biodiversity habitats, and slows down the movement of water through the field, it also creates a more human scale space to work in, it does make it slightly more challenging for Dave our veg grower though! We are growing a wider range of vegetables, with diversity at the core, why grow one type of beans when you can grow 4 or 5! We are trialing dried beans for Grown in Totnes this year.
The Eggs: The flock of 130 white leghorn hens are housed in two mobile houses, that can be moved around the farm. This allows the hens to spend their days eating the green manures, and spreading their goodness wherever they go. The eggs are delicious and sold out most weeks.
The Wheat: We are growing 5 acres of "population" wheat. This wheat has been bred by Martin Wolfe specially for organic systems. 32 varieties of wheat were crossed creating a genetically diverse "population" of wheat that can readily adapt to different soils, climates, and is incredibly disease resistant. We are growing this partially to feed our hens but we will also have had some dried and ground into flour. This kind of flour is low in protein and gluten because of the low light levels in the UK and the SW in particular, not making it suitable as bread flour in the normal sense. However when used in with sour dough baking it can work very well. We will trial this with the Almond Thief this autumn. We will save our own seed so our population of wheat will adapt to Huxhams Cross Farm.
The Jams, Chutneys and Cordials: We use the grade out and excess fruit and vegetables to make a range of chutneys and jams, cordials and other products. These are made using our own good quality tasty fruit, and only 70% of the sugar normally used in jam making and that is all, no preservatives or e numbers. This allows the full flavour of the fruit to come through in the products.
The Cows: We have two Shetland cows called Daffodil and Damson. Their home is Long Meadow, a beautiful ancient 5 acre meadow at the heart of the farm. This meadow is full of wild orchids, and meadow sweet. Our Shetland ladies are there for conservation grazing, to promote the habitat for the orchids, and their dung will be home to lots of insects. These in turn will feed wild bird populations and we have left a "scalloped" edge of bramble around the meadow for nesting habitat. They can be there between July and March, in between times they move around the rest of the farm grazing. These cows are also key to our Biodynamic status, bringing their wonderful energy to the farm. The Shetland breed is a rare breed and is extremely hardy, we chose them for this reason ( not to mention their names) so they can stay outside all year round and do not need rich pasture. This breed is used commonly by the wildlife trusts around the country for conservation grazing.
The Soil: We put the whole farm down to a rich Green Manure mixed specially for us by Tuckers, it was made up of grasses and 5 types of clover and 3 types of herb. The growth on this has been phenomenal and we have occasionally lost small children in there.
We have also had the farm "keyline" ploughed by Nigel Mackean who came with his penetrometer and released some of the compaction in the fields. The field that was particularly "miserable" is now only mildly depressed thanks to the addition of air, microbes and roots and the chicken poo.
How is the farm changing; we are tracking the changes in the soil and look of the farm by regularly counting things like the worms. As we build up the data we will work with local universities to measure how the farm has changed.