“I’ve been organic for the last seventeen years,” says Jono. “It’s good land here for organics: we’re surrounded by woodland, and don’t have any neighbours flinging chemicals around over the hedges.”
Lyburn Farm sits on the northern edge of the New Forest. True to its name – from the Scottish lye, ‘born’, and burn, ‘river’, together meaning ‘born by the river’ – the land straddles the gothically named River Blackwater. The striking land, falling away from the heather and gorse of the forest’s high ground and down towards a valley of ancient oaks, has been farmed by three generations of the Smales family over 50 years.
These days, Jono has about 90 acres of organically certified land, and grows a whole host of veg for us – including broad beans, courgettes, French beans, garden peas, sugar snap peas, runner beans, and juicy sweetcorn.
“But we try to keep it small,” he says. “We don’t want to get too commercial. We don’t want to be trying to keep too many balls in the air.”
With good soils and excellent light levels, Lyburn Farm is a great spot for growing. There’s only one problem lurking in the surrounding oak woodlands:
“Our main problem is deer – there are hundreds of them, and they will eat anything given half a chance. They’re very partial to runner beans and sweetcorn…” For a while this was a real issue, but with careful fencing, the Smales have managed to create some ground that is “not totally overrun”!
The deer might be a nuisance when they’re peckish, but by and large Jono is delighted to see wildlife on the farm; from the birds (who do have to be discouraged from merrily digging all the freshly planted broad bean seeds out of the ground to snack on), to the bees that hum around his runner bean crop. Custodian of such an inspiring natural landscape, sustainability and biodiversity were Jono’s biggest motivations for converting his farm to organic.
Sweetcorn is one of Jono’s favourite crops; long before going organic, the Smales have been growing summer corn for 30 years or more. It’s not always the easiest crop, but after so many years, Jono knows all its little foibles.
“Weed control is always the biggest problem,” he says, “and we quite often have to revert to hand-hoeing. Sweetcorn can certainly use water, but we have our own reservoir, so water isn’t a problem for us.”
“The runner beans and rhubarb can need a lot of irrigation as well when the weather is hot. But every year is different. The weather is always changing, the only thing that stays the same is that there's always a new challenge with organics!”