A visit to Highgrove

In March this year, members of the FeedSax team visited Duchy Home Farm in Highgrove, located near Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Home Farm is part of the Duchy of Cornwall and was converted to organic farming by H.R.H the Prince of Wales in 1985. Four team members made the trip to Home Farm: Helena Hamerow, Amy Bogaard, Christopher Ramsey and Elizabeth Stroud. The farm manager, David Wilson, introduced us to the different aspects of the farm’s management. He was helped by the very friendly farm dog, Grace, who was very sad that she could not fit in the Landrover for the trip around the fields.

The tour of the fields provided insight into the limited weeds growing in the fields, and allowed us to enjoy the beautiful Gloucestershire weather.

We were interested in visiting Home Farm because of its management system. The farm is completely organic, with weeds controlled via specific machinery, low nitrogen levels and a crop rotation system. The crops grown on the site form a rotation system which sees a period of fallow/grass/clover leys (2-3yrs), and then the application of low levels of farmyard manure, followed by the cultivation of a winter cereal, then a spring cereal, and so on. Soil fertility at Home Farm is provided through organic means – the application of animal manure from the farm’s dairy herd, and the sowing of clover/grass. The striking parallels seen between the agricultural system in place at Duchy Home Farm and the early medieval agricultural system we are trying to detect in the FeedSax project mean that the cereals and weed floras at Highgrove can offer us vital information.

David provided us with grain samples from the 2018 harvest of wheat, barley, rye, oat and spelt. Our isotopic analysis of these samples has produced new information regarding the crops’ natural isotopic differences. We now know that oat, when grown in the same field as rye, has a carbon isotopic ratio which is much lower than the rye. Such information is vital for interpreting the archaeological data we are collecting on the FeedSax project, especially when we are trying to use isotopes to detect crop rotation; we now know a difference in carbon isotopic ratios between wheat and rye should be expected if they are growing in the same conditions. The interesting results have prompted us to roll out a more extensive isotope sampling trip for 2019, and we will be revisiting Home Farm in late June to conduct weed surveys, as we did at Laxton, and also to collect additional isotope samples.

Elizabeth Stroud

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