Sheepdrove grow traditional varieties of wheat, oats, barley and rye. These varieties have a lower glycaemic index and are less likely to trigger gluten allergies. We also grow other crops such as paragon wheat, which is used for milling, red fife used for speciality breads and borage which is used mainly for its seeds which are pressed for use in organic cosmetics, the flowers can also be used in salads and drinks for their cucumber flavour.
At Sheepdrove we do not spray our fields with pesticides, instead we rely on healthy ecosystems above and below the soil. Manufactured fertilisers harm soil life by releasing toxic levels of chemicals such as ammonia. Our arable crops are grown in rotation with grasses and clovers to build soil fertility and break crop-pest cycles.
There is no quick fix for weeds or pests, so we have to farm away from problems. It’s all down to understanding soils, crops and good preparation of the ground. This differs slightly depending on whether they follow grass or a previous arable crop, in this way the soils are balanced, so pests and diseases are rarely a problem for us.
Black magicAfter the clover and grass leys, the farm team apply compost or composted manure, to add organic matter, fertility and life to the soil. Compost is like an ecosystem booster, a soil conditioner full of fibrous matter, and tiny living things such as bacteria, soil fungus and earthworms. Scientists have found that soils with more diverse ecosystems hold onto nutrients best.
After spreading the muck we shallow plough to preserve soil structure. Cultivators are used to break up any clods that the ploughing created, levelling the soil. Seed is then drilled for the first crop. We predominantly rely on spring cultivation, never leaving soil exposed for long, ploughing in autumn exposes the precious soil to the elements for months. By leaving a cover of stubble and clovers we protect the soil, retain moisture, build fertility and provide over winter habitats for a plethora of insect and bird life.
In spring the ground is prepared for the next cereal. We use a stubble cultivator to break the ground and then wait… this allows weeds to germinate (“chit”). Then we go over the field again with a cultivator to kill the weed seedlings, and wait a second time for the weeds to chit.
After sowing, we can avoid going into the field again (saving labour and fuel) until the crop is ready for harvest, we may need to weed with a tine harrow while the crop is young (before February for a winter-sown cereal, late April or May for a spring-sown cereal). But we generally don’t worry about wild flora in the crop because it helps us!
Most wildflowers grow below the crop’s canopy and provide food to a range of farmer-friendly wildlife such as ground beetles, spiders, and ladybirds, who are our natural army of pest controllers.
Harvest timeHarvest happens in late summer, between July and September, to suit the crop. We combine the crops as the crop ripens and dries. The harvested grain is dried and cleaned ready to be milled.
Taste it for yourself! You can buy our stoneground wholemeal bread flour from our online shop or try artisan organic bread baked with our flour from Astons here on the farm.