We started off in May four years ago with a few south facing grassy fields, on which we planted nearly 600 Apple trees over the winter months. We now have four flocks of organic hens and a rich biodiverse environment, where beans, clover and wild flowers are growing under blossoming fruit trees.
The understory planting is designed to suppress the grass while attracting the bees and feeding the soil and then becoming food and cover for the hens.
We don't want grass, as it hinders the growth of the trees. We want the bees to help pollinate the Apple trees and we want our hens to be happy and healthy. We also want to encourage a biodiverse environment so that nature can find a balance that is sustainable and productive.
The Hens are regularly moved around the Orchard, Their houses are dragged on skis with the tractor and a moveable electric fence marks out their fresh plot, leaving the previous plot scratched up and fertilised thanks to the hens, ready to cultivate and plant a new understory cover crop. Chickens originate from the jungles of Asia, and are happiest among trees and plants. while the trees protect them from an arial hawk attack they also provide the accessional windfall apple. They have a varied diet including insects, grubs, fresh greenery, organic chicken food, peas, beans and seeds from the understory crops helping the hens to produce wonderful eggs.
The apple trees benefit from both the presence of the hens and the understory crops. The hens will eat pests that could attack the trees, they knock back any plants competing for nutrients around the tree roots and they fertilise the soil with their poo. Plants such as broad beens, peas and vetches grown under the trees have nitrogen fixing nodules in their roots improving the soil that the apple trees grow in, also helping to produce wonderful apples.