With the darker days of winter behind us, the countryside at Rhug is waking up and it is all go on the estate. We caught up with Gareth Jones, Farm Manager and Richard Prideaux, the Estate Forager to find out more about the sights and sounds of Spring at Rhug.
Gareth has been at Rhug for over 20 years, as Farm Manager he works very closely with Lord Newborough on the day to day running of the farm. He says: “Spring is one of the busiest periods of the year on the farm and as with all farming activities, we are totally weather dependant. This year has been exceptional, as it can be very wet here in March and it can delay us getting on with spring cultivation work”.
This year to date, the team have managed to sow 180 acres of Spring Barley and Oats which will be combined in August/September to feed to the animals on the estate. The estate converted to organic 22 years ago, they do not use any artificial nitrogen fertiliser and it is incredibly important for Lord Newborough to keep the estate as self-sufficient as possible, especially as the cost of feed and fertiliser has increased significantly this year.
Organic farming has many more challenges and rewards than conventional farming, there are no quick fixes – everything is done in a natural way, working together with the environment, sometimes planning years ahead and farming using modern ways but being traditional in your thinking.
Lambing has been in full swing in recent weeks, Gareth says “The weather has been very kind to us, thus far. The newly born lambs are turned out on fresh spring grass within twelve hours of birth and we also have two flocks lambing outside. The cattle are finishing well out of sheds and we have turned out over 100 head of cattle onto pasture.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the month, Gareth says: “The next crops to be sown will be our arable silage, which is a mix of oats, peas and vetches (being legumes, the latter fix nitrogen into the soil naturally). This crop will be harvested in August to enable us to feed our cattle over the winter months.” Oat milk made from these estate oats has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to cleanse and soothe the skin and promotes cell turnover, it is found in the Wild Beauty skincare products such as the Active Treatment Serum with Hyaluronic Acid and theNourishing Eye Cream with Elderflower
Richard Prideaux is the Estate Forager, he collects the wild forage which is at the heart of the Wild Beauty skincare collection, from around the estate with his team.
He says : “Spring always feels like the start of The Big Show here at Rhug. We have weathered the storms of winter and the long dark nights, and now we have passed the Spring equinox we have more daylight to make use of – and so have the animals. We’re ready to jump into action, and there is plenty to be done. The hedgerows are alive with birds busy making their summer nests, darting in and out amongst the young hawthorn leaves and blackthorn flowers. At the base of those hedgerows, we are starting to see the first spring flowers of the year – primrose, dog violet and the golden shimmer of lesser celandine.”
What Is Foraging?
It is the act of searching for and gathering wild food in either urban or rural environments, such as mushrooms, wild edible plants, berries and seeds. It has become much for popular in recent times due to the increased health benefits or being outdoors and being active.
Richard Prideaux, the Rhug Estate forager says “It’s one of the few things we literally evolved to do. When you look at the timeline of our species most of it is made up of hunter/gatherers – the farming bit only comes in relatively recently. Of all the outdoor skills I cover in my courses, I think foraging is probably the easiest to teach. I think it’s a fundamental human skill, like communication or decision-making”.
Out and about on the estate in all seasons and weathers, Richard knows every inch of the landscape and relishes the changes in seasons. “Over in the wooded valleys currently, you are enveloped in the scent of wild garlic and bluebells, while overhead the young beech leaves start to unfurl from the tight brown casings at the end of each branch. Small mammals are coming out of their winter torpor and if you sit still amidst the oaks, you can hear them scurrying along through the dry leaves, finding food and making their own plans for the summer.”
Currently Richard and his team can be found up on the hillsides harvesting the gorse flowers from the huge, dense patches that are found above the valleys on the estate. “The hard work and scratches from the thorns are worth it for the scent of vanilla and coconut that surround us, and we often hear a pair of red kites wheeling above us, riding the breeze and scanning the landscape below, I always say I have the best office in the world”
Soon the bright, sharp spring days will make way for the warmer summer months. Everything will become busier as the estate moves into its most productive months. But for now, wherever you are, enjoy the season, sit outside, listen to the birds, and watch nature do what she does best.