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A Week on the Estate: Dry Spring, Frozen Peas & Swarming Bees

This week, a long spell of fine weather came to an end with cooler temperatures and much needed rainfall. England experienced its driest May since records began in 1862, and the sunniest on record since 1929. The contrast between our arid spring and the water-logged winter that preceded it is a striking one and drives home the vital importance of our work to sustainably manage both drainage and irrigation.

Work on the land continues in all weathers. Rob Hartley has rented a field to grow peas for the frozen food market. He and his team from R. Caudwell (Produce) Ltd drilled their peas before the rain. All being well, they’ll be harvested, frozen and packed on the same day in August. Also with an eye on the harvest season, Matthew Benton and his hard-working team made a start on clearing the grain store.

Paul Barnes has been walking the oat crops and roguing the odd black-grass plant. With each head containing up to 100 seeds, this species can create one of the main grass-weed issues on any farm. On his travels, Paul came across poppies and left them to thrive. The poppy offers surprising health benefits. Not only do poppy seeds add great flavour and crunch to food, but one teaspoon contains 4% of the body’s daily calcium and phosphorous needs, and 2%-4% of the iron.

Improvement work on tenants’ cottages continued, with the new kitchen at 2 Keal Cottage taking shape thanks to local joiner Phil Codd. Closer to home, a swarm of bees on Lime Tree Avenue suggests that our crops won’t lack for pollinators.

This week, Gin Distillery Manager Tristan Jørgensen continued sharing his insights into the history of his craft with a feature on a botanical that helps give fine gin its smooth finish: Orris root. Orris is the root of the Iris, a beautiful genus of flowering plants found widely around the globe and named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow. For millennia, the Iris was a symbol of power and majesty. The ancient Egyptians placed it on the brow of the Sphinx and on the sceptres of their kings, the three leaves of its blossom representing faith, wisdom and valour.

In ancient Greece and Rome, Orris root was largely used in perfumery; its usefulness in cosmetics far surpasses its uses in medicine or gin-making. As far back as 1480, Orris mixed with Anise was used to scent linen, and even today Chanel No. 5 contains a high proportion of this root.

Harvesting Orris requires a lot of work. After three or four years of growth, the roots are dug up and left until they are as hard as stone, a drying process which for gin production can take up to five years. The root is then milled into a fine powder.

Dried Orris root has a wonderfully floral, sweet smell, often likened to that of parma violets. Once distilled, Orris root brings both its floral sweetness and an earthy, dusty quality to the palate, a combination reminiscent of grass and hay. Orris root is sweet, clean and dry on the nose and sweet and woody in the mouth. Its overall taste has been likened to liquorice sticks, and it brings a silky mouth-feel and an intriguing depth and texture to a well finished gin.

* Image of ‘Purple Bearded Iris’ by Diliff courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.