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Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Frizzled Filbert

Frizzled Filbert

22nd August would have been a good day to head south, sorry left, down the A12 toward the M25, and on to Kent. Why?  St Philibert’s (Fllbert’s) day, of course.  Although he lived around 600 AD in France, he may be the reason we have the White, the Purple and the Frizzled Filbert, just some of the cultivated Corylus. The 22nd was traditionally the day when Cobs and Filberts were ready to harvest.  On the other hand, it may have nothing to do with this Gascon Abbot.  Filbert may merely be a derivation of “Full beard” in reference to the involucre (husk) of the filbert that entirely encapsulates the nut. That’s the wonderful thing with plant names; we may never be certain of their origin.


So what about the ‘Cob’, being the cultivated variety of C. avellana? The Filberts are said to come from  Corylus
.)  It was believed that children played an early version of ‘conkers’ with hazelnuts; the game was called cobnut or cobblenut, and the winning nut was crowned “the cob”.

Princess Royal

Princess Royal

A small group from STOG (Suffolk Traditional Orchards Group) recently made this trip south of London to a beautiful garden, perched on the edge of the Kentish Weald.  Meg, our host, treated us to tea and cake, and fruit leather (brought by one of the Suffolk lot), before we headed into the shade of the first Plat(t).   These traditional nut orchards are dominated by the “Kentish Cob” but there must be
several hundred different varieties of Cob and Filbert, many being preserved in a collection at the largest commercial Plat we visited.

There are not many days in a life when one can stand on a sunny hillside with a bunch of strangers  discussing the identification of a variety based upon the length and frizzleyness of the beard, and the size and shape of its nuts!!  We learnt a whole new vocab, including
“brutting”, or was it “bratting” – being the partial snapping off of young branches to encourage more nut growth in the following year.

With new terminology and a renewed enthusiasm for hazels, it was back to Suffolk to protect my own!!

Lange Landsberger

Lange Landsberger

In late August, early September, many of us will have experienced the joy of successfully trawling the hedgerows for blackberry, bullace, sloes, damsons and possibly even the odd crab (apple).  Some will have gone a step further in order to make various preserves from Haws, Hips and Rowen berry; and still further, those who start to delve into the hedge bottom for the likes of burdock and radish root.  The wild feast is at its most productive now.  And of
course do not forget the fungi foragers, who should be out in force following the recent rain.



However, I doubt many of us have had the delight of finding hazelnuts still hanging and ready to eat. Nutkin’s American cousin will have beaten us to it, and don’t be fooled if you see what appears as an unopened nut on the ground, it is almost certainly empty. Sciurus carolinensis has already weighed it up and discarded it.   What’s worse, he doesn’t bother to wait for the nut to
form properly, which would give us bipedal foragers a fighting chance, but rather removes the embryo nut when it is no bigger than a pinhead.  And conservationists wonder why dormice are struggling to survive!

Following 3 years of concerted efforts to control the grey at Broxtead, we are finally rewarded by adding real wild hazel to the basket, something I have not done in at least 25 years. The taste of green hazelnuts is remarkably similar to that of the early summer taste of the pignut, dug up in the nearby meadows.  2013 will be remembered for the joy of finding something again after such a long abstinence.




Friday, August 16th, 2013

Broom Rape

First came across this last year, and didn’t have a clue.  Some weird orchid maybe or a butterbur flower or a helleborine?
Triffid like in its initial appearance, at closer inspection it is as interesting and intricate as any other angiosperm, but with one disturbing difference – NO GREEN!!  No Chlorophyll whatsoever.  Hence the title – it has no option but to feed upon and breed upon some non-consenting host; in this case Trifolium repens. Classed as a holoparasite, the dust like seed of Common Broomrape (Orobanche minor) remains dormant in the soil for up to 15 years until the right chemical signals
are sent out from the roots of a possible victim.  It then develops and inserts haustoria (kind of root) into the host
plant and starts to feed.


Onto a very different parasite, and another first at
Broxtead, probably because I’ve never stopped to look before; although the
books do say that it occurs most often in drought conditions on sandy
soils.  Made famous by Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin whilst he was irritating Mr Brown, Robin’s Pin Cushion or The Bedeguar Gall is the slightly unnatural creation of Diplolepsis rosae, one of the myriad of solitary parasitic wasps that, amongst other pathogens, create a huge variety of alien looking homes on almost all plant genera.  Occurring most commonly on my second favourite rose, R.canina,
Robin’s Pin Cushion forms when this specific wasp inserts up to 30 eggs into a leaf bud.  The rose responds to this
intrusion by dramatically altering its cell structure to form this bizarre shape.  However, what goes on inside

Robin’s pincushion

this, and many other galls, really is enough to completely discombobulate the cranial juices, and far too complex to explain here.  Suffice to say, not only do the wasp larvae develop inside the gall, but there are different wasps that come along and lay
their eggs in the already created gall, and in some cases insert them into the larvae of the gall creator itself.  In fact there are at least 14 different parasitiods connected with this specific
gall alone.  Another world!

And lastly, a rather more controversial pest, if you are a
bumblebee that is.  He maybe this farm’s namesake, but old Mr Brock is wreaking havoc on the Bombus population.  Every day I come across another dozen or so bee and wasp nests ripped out of the ground, presumably for the grubs and small
amounts of honey.  So it is not just the  fault of farmers that bees are supposedly in decline.  Or maybe it’s the raptor argument?  In the same way that we are told, lots of sparrowhawks mean a healthy small bird population , then lots of badgers
equates to a healthy bee population.  We have got lots of raptors and a shed full of Brocks so ipso facto we have got heaps of songbirds and a huge variety and number of bees.  So let’s just accept that farmers are actually pretty good at looking after wildlife!!


Friday, June 28th, 2013

Aj and Bee swarm

The Queen is dead, long live the Queen.  Well actually, that’s not the case this time. She’s had the good sense to leave home with about 50% of the hive.  Working on about 5000 bees per pound (sorry,someone please convert that to kilos), somewhere in the region of 10,000 female workers have followed the old queen as a new queen is born to a very old wild colony in the wall of my children’s bathroom!

In no way as productive on the honey front, but no less fascinating and much to the family’s chagrin, we also have a thriving colony of masonry bees by the backdoor!  Masonry makes them sound quite construction, but in actual fact these diminutive solitary bees act collectively more like Fred Dibnah, taking down our house,
grain of mortar by grain of mortar.  When this persistent mining caused the door to the woodshed to fall out; action had to be taken.  In the spirit of housing the homeless, we cemented in segments of bamboo and spent rifle bullets, in the hope that this branch of the apidae family would desist with their demolition.  Before I could even cut the bamboo flush with the wall, the bees were in; the single egg laid, ends of said tubes sealed with mud – job done.  The brass bullets proved a very popular abode (.243 being the preferred calibre).

Vipers Bugloss

Further afield, on the other side of the farm, an impressive wild flower display is taking place, much to the delight of our third group of apian friends – the bombastic Bumblebees.  Viper’s Bugloss (Echium Vulgare) has created an almost electric blue carpet in a field corner. This happens each year where ground has been disturbed but not then drilled with a crop.  From the Greek Echis for Viper, this striking and slightly prehistoric looking plant was formally used as an antidote to the bite, but more surprisingly, when the seeds were boiled in wine, and consumed daily, was said to help the flow of mother’s
milk.  Surely Chablis alone would have the desired effect!

Bee crazy for Viper's Bugloss

Broxtead New Potatoes

Butter?  Well there has to be some mention of agriculture.  Started lifting new potatoes today.  Utterly gorgeous with a

Terrestrial Caviar

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Conopodium majus

Hidden away in a small meadow in East Suffolk, and known only to myself, a few woodland fairies and a slightly bemused gathering of Jacob and Kerry Hill lambs, lies a small but perfectly formed patch of Conopodium majus; or to go by just one of its many colloquial names , The Pignut.

Sounds uninviting I know, but this is the caviar of my world, and even better, it actually tastes nice!  A delicate knee height apiaceae (umbilliferae) flower and fennel like leaves in May /June are the only clue to this underground treasure. The trick is to follow the stem with dentistry-like precision underground; but be warned, this innocent little temptress has a clever trick. As you follow the white stem down, it gets thinner and very fragile, and all of a sudden it turns 90 degrees and head off
sideways.  Sever this cord, and the hazelnut to walnut size treat will be lost forever.  If you make it, what lies at the end is only to be shared with fairies and loved ones.  Too much effort for anyone else!

June is manic in the wild flower world of Broxtead.
Mouse-eared hawkweed, with its covering of soft white   hair   lies   amongst the white sheets of heath bedstraw.
Ragged Robin with its unkempt hair and long legs rises above yellow
flag, spotted orchids and the yet to perform willowherb, that will explode and dominate in one month’s time. And my favourite, Cardamine pratensis (look that one up yourself) which stands alone and beautiful in sea of grass.  Her leaves have a wonderful peppery taste when nibbled.

It all sounds a bit poetic, but that is the reality.

Oh and on the farming front, too cold and wet early on; too dry now, onions windblown, potatoes late and carrots being eaten
by deer.  Bloody farmers – never stop complaining!


Thursday, May 24th, 2012

We know farmers in particular like to talk about the weather, a lot, but we are heartily glad that the weather has finally dried up and turned a little warmer.  In April, we had 130mm of rainfall; in April 2011 we had only 5mm in the hottest, driest spring in 100 years – the complete opposite of this year which has to be the wettest and coldest on record.  So, despite our light sandy soils, crops such as potatoes, onions, and sugar beet are struggling, whilst cereals seemed to have thrived in the constant wet.

We now boast a herd of Red Poll cattle (poll = no horns!) who are happily grazing our wet meadows and keeping us all fit chasing after them when one decides that they prefer a different meadow to the rest of the herd.  They are great escapologists!

Newcomers in our bird world include Great Gray Shrike, Nuthatch, and Crossbills.  All our regulars have arrived with the spring namely Woodlarks, Skylarks, Yellowhammers, Dartford Warblers, Redstarts, Nightingales, Cuckoos, and masses of Goldfinches, whose brilliantly coloured plumage is startling.

An unwelcome visitor has arrived in the shape of the caterpillar of the Brown-tail moth.   They form web-like homes in hawthorn and blackthorn hedges and have devoured whole hedges in the process.  They have nasty hairs that cause skin rashes, headaches, and breathing problems, so best avoided.

Some plant species have benefited from the wet conditions and a whole carpet of heartsease (wild pansy) has appeared on Sutton Heath.  Primroses and bluebells have put on a good show, if a little late.

The start of 2012 saw the arrival of Portland sheep who have just about finished lambing.  This hardy rare breed will
graze the heathland to the benefit of a huge array of flora and fauna.  They are joining the established flock of Hebrideans.


Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Stinkhorn Fungi, Broxtead Estate, October 2011


Shaggy ink-cap, stinkhorns, parasols – you have to be a country person to know these are names of fungi that appear in the autumn.  The parasol is a common species that likes well-drained soil and gets its name from the shape of a “lady’s parasol”.  Stinkhorns have a spore mass that smell of carrion or  dung in order to attract flies and insects who disperse their spores.  The Shaggy ink-cap was originally boiled with cloves to make ink.  From the names of fungi and mushrooms, I think our forebears had a closer relationship to wild mushrooms than our generation who view such “growths” with suspicion.

The landscape at Broxtead is a mixture of farm land,  heathland, and mixed woodlands.  Many of England’s finest trees grow here, particularly the English Oak (Quercus robur) so it is with great sadness we have learnt of a new disease in our Oaks called acute oak decline (A.O.D.) which kills the trees within four to five years.  It is a bacterial infection causing extensive “bleeding” of a dark, sticky substance from splits in the bark.  Canopy dieback is not severe until the tree is near death and as it appears to be easily transferable, it has the potential to have a serious impact on the health of our Oak trees.

 We have also found a wood-boring beetle in affected trees known as the Oak Jewel beetle (Agrilus biguttatus).  Since the 1990’s, this beetle is becoming increasingly common taking advantage of the tree’s weakened state and further debilitating it.  The larvae feed on the inner bark, pupate to form the adult beetles which leave the tree via “D”-shaped exit holes.  The Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust are carrying out further tests.  If you would like to add to their research,  visit their website at  or contact them on

 Our onion harvest has finished now with massive yields recorded and whilst the weather continues fine and dry, we are drilling  winter cereals.

Firewood logs

 With winter around the corner, the estate is cutting and delivering firewood, and muck-spreading is under way to prepare the soil for next year’s crops.  Other pre-winter jobs include repairs to farm buildings and machinery maintenance of items to be laid-up for the winter.

Whilst we enjoy the current sunny days and mild temperatures, gardens and fields are bouncing with Greenfinches, Gold finches, Blue-tits and Great-tits who love to feed on seed heads, in particular, thistles.  Grey squirrels scurry everywhere hiding their winter-store of nuts.  A particularly laden walnut tree outside the office has been systematically raided over the last few weeks by these clever little tree-rats.

Year end and Year Beginning

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

It’s been a busy time at Broxtead these last 6 weeks.  We are into onion harvest now hot on the heels of potatoes and cereals.  We have also been sharing our onion harvest with the rest of Great Britain through the media.  AJ Paul took part in “Foodie Friday” on BBC1’s, The One Show on Friday, 16th September and as I write, he is being interviewed for a weekend piece coming up in the Telegraph.  Anyone for Onion Soup?   Our potatoes and onions are available for purchase at The Suffolk Food Hall, Wherstead, near Ipswich (underneath the Orwell Bridge) or visit their website.

 This month’s weather has been warm with regular showers and our hedgerows and wild spaces are as colourful and abundant as anyone’s garden.  I spotted a wild mint with a pretty pale purple flower growing by the side of a farm road last week having just marvelled at the water lilies flowering again on the loam ponds.  The cereal crops have sprouted and bring a fresh green to the countryside whilst “tree-greens” are tiring.

       Pink Water Lily flowers emerging on the loam ponds

  As summer blooms into autumn, there will be all sorts of fungi emerging and I shall  attempt  to include some photos and descriptions next month with AJ’s help who is  knowledgeable enough to avoid anything poisonous.  I am looking forward to the array of  Autumn’s leaf colours and newly turned ploughed soil on the land, and the wildness and  drama that appears along the Suffolk coastline when the winter sets in.  Even better when you can return to a warm fire either in our local pub in Shottisham, or at our holiday lets at Vale Farm.

                                            Wild Mint at Broxtead              

 In the office too, our year end approaches with preparations underway to give some thought about the financial year to come.  We are also taking bookings for the year ahead at Vale Farm Barns particularly for the party season (that shall remain nameless – it is only September!) .  Vale Farm Barns can be rented as a whole providing accommodation for 18 people – all of whom can dine around our enormous dining table in Vancouver barn for a great get-together.  (All the necessary decorations are provided so no “taking-down” session in the New Year which I always think is the worst bit!)  (Visit Big House Holidays website for “whole-barn” bookings or

 In farming, there is a feeling of our “year” drawing to a close – once marked by Old Michaelmas Day on October 11th when tenant farmers traditionally paid their farm rent to their landlord.  The nights drawing-in will be welcomed by our arable staff who seemed to have worked all the daylight hours since last Spring!  Once our onions are safely stored, we will have plenty of time to enjoy the Broxtead autumn and winter.


Tuesday, August 9th, 2011


 I have decided that seasons are like friends.  You can divide them into two categories; those that arrive early and those that arrive late.  This season is definitely an early one.  I have picked 2 kg of blackberries (by 8th August) and the spring barley is going through the combine as I write (9th August) with winter barley cut and already in the barn.  This photo is our foreman David harvesting on Meeting House field.


We are mainly vegetable growers here at Broxtead.  Our light sandy soil  is ideal for growing great veg that can be lifted in all weathers.  We supply all the supermarkets with red, brown, and spring onions, carrots, and potatoes. and have been lifting potatoes since 7th June.  Lorries are loaded almost every day at this time of year with the men working long hours after a 5.30am start.  Throw in a couple of breakdowns, wet weather, and a difficult growing season behind us, I admire their patience in “getting on with it”. 

These 4 photos explain the process of lifting and transporting potatoes from the field before they are collected for distribution around the country.


The potato harvester is very hi-tech with adjustable lifting shears, webs and cleaner-rollers  and a “tent” at the rear where a “gang” get rid of any rubbish that made it over the webs but doesn’t meet the produce quality standard required.  Our man-in-charge of this bit of kit is Colin who has eyes in the back of his head by way of a monitor in his cab rigged up to cameras all over the machine so he can check for blockages and get a visual connection to the pickers on the back.  The tractor drivers have to move in harmony with the harvester as the potatoes are loaded into each box on the trailer.  As they leave the conveyor arm they fall through a net system which breaks their fall so they don’t bruise.  Everything about this harvesting system has been cleverly thought through to ensure you all get great potatoes.

The harvesting season being 2 weeks earlier than normal will hopefully mean less of a panic to get next year’s crops drilled before the weather turns and 14-hour-days are just a memory.  Thank goodness for fixed calendar dates or Christmas would be 2 weeks early!

Wild Flowers, Crossed Beaks, and 100 not out!

Thursday, July 14th, 2011


Some wild flowers, just like more “domesticated” plants, flower better in some years than others.  Long dry springs followed by torrential early summer showers are clearly good for Ragwort whose yellow flowers seem to stand so tall and luminous against their leaf-green backdrops in the hedgerows and fields here at Broxtead.

  It really does stand out this year blowing in the breeze with                   equally tall Willow Herb blooming and is all interspersed with umbellifers (great word – my computer is not liking it so I do!) – this describes the Cow Parsley and Hogweed that form part of the plant family known for their aromatic qualities with hollow stems whose cluster of flowers form a compound “umbel”.  I shall be looking out for the rare Red-tipped Cudweed that is due to flower this month – it likes bare ground with no competition.  These umbellifers are standing proud in Sandy Lane, Broxtead.


Meanwhile, on the commercial growing side of things, the rain has perked up all the crops and we look set to start harvesting cereals shortly.  The yields will be low and the straw short due to the dry spring.  We continue to lift potatoes – two different varieties of delicious Bakers known as Maris Piper and Marfona.

After the excitement of last month’s sighting of the European Roller, our local newsletter contains a photo of a Crossbill, taken at Tangham near Upper Hollesley Common just at the edge of Broxtead. Described as “a chunky finch with a large head and bill which is crossed over at the tips”, adult males are a distinctive brick-red and females greenish-brown. They are resident all year round and eat conifer seeds.

Here in the Estate Office, alongside all the every day management tasks, we are looking to the future by looking back!  Before you think we are taking the Pilates and Yoga practised by staff a little further by turning into time-travelling contortionists, we are looking to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Paul Family’s ownership of the Broxtead Estate in 2014.  The estate’s history until 1914 has been extensively written about in the book “Sutton People”  by Greville Bickerton (visit )  and this is a great opportunity for us to research life at Broxtead  since then by talking to retired members of staff about their recollections of working life here – and I mean life – several worked here from the age of 14 until they retired and who now live on the Estate in our retirement homes.  I also hope to look into the history of some of the families who have been connected with the Estate and whose twenty-first century generation still work here today.  We envisage a display of some sort once we have collected and collated all the information over the next 3 years so if you have anything to add, please contact Ali Hollingsworth on 01394 411242.


Tuesday, June 21st, 2011


The nearest beach to Broxtead is at the end of the peninsula; a little village called Bawdsey.  It boasts a fine Manor House now an International School, a WWII radar bunker, and a small sandy beach.  You can catch the little boat across the mouth of the River Deben to Old Felixstowe and admire the view to your right, clear up the river to the BT tower in the distance at Martlesham, and to the left, the river draining in and out of the North Sea at a frightening rate.  In the winter, it’s a spot that can be bleak and moody with the wind whipping little frothy white waves up the river whilst the grey winter drizzle descends, and in the summer it is popular with families enjoying the beach.  I probably love it the most when it is deserted in the winter and I have to remind myself of the importance of sharing this great place in the summer with Suffolk’s visitors.

As I sit admiring the view from the Boathouse Café I can see that it is Lifeboat Day today and I can see this great boat-shaped spectacle of nautical advancement moored up at the opposite quay.  The local fishermen are roaring up and down the river in the fishing vessels with their RNLI flags flying to show their support of this unique and valuable institution whilst at the same time drawing the public’s attention to their means of fishing.  The fishermen work hard in all weathers, take financial risks,  all in a notoriously dangerous industry – no wonder fishing and farming are so closely linked. So many similarities.

Our voices as farmers were hopefully heard above all the Trade stands and exhibitions at the Suffolk Show at the beginning of this month.  The public need to understand how this recent drought impacts on the price of food produced in the Eastern counties.  Hopefully the farmers will receive some of the increased prices paid and it is not wholly swallowed up by the Supermarkets’ global drive for increased profits. 

This month at Broxtead will see us lifting more potatoes and possibly harvesting barley and wheat earlier than normal.

There has been a sighting of a European Roller on Upper Hollesley Common (northern edge of the Estate).  This rare visitor normally sticks to Spain, eastern Europe and Asia.  From the comfort of my office, I can see in the identification book that the adult birds are a beautiful blue with a reddish-brown “top-coat”.  No doubt he is feasting on the varied insect diet we can offer him here at Broxtead.

Finally, the end of an era has drawn to a close in the history of the Paul Family in Ipswich.  “Woodside” was the family home of Miss Jean and Miss Pamela Paul but has now been sold to new owners.  Mr Colin Prew was the Woodside gardener for 40 years and it was my priviledge to join him with AJ and Julie Paul on a tour of the house and garden.  It truly was like stepping back in time and I am looking forward to interviewing “Prew” as part of the Broxtead Living History Project (more to come on this subject later!)

For now, a picture of the house and AJ and Julie Paul.