Amendments for soil health in top fruit

This field lab aims to investigate how the addition of different soil amendments affects soil health in fruit production systems.

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Field Lab Timeline

    11/2/2016 12:00:00 PM
  • First meeting

    First meeting
  • 2/28/2017 12:00:00 PM
  • Individual conversations with growers

    Individual conversations with growers
  • 4/2/2017 11:00:00 AM
  • Second meeting

    Second meeting
  • 7/30/2017 11:00:00 AM
  • Third meeting

    Third meeting
  • 12/31/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Amendments being added (ongoing)

    Amendments being added (ongoing)
  • 3/21/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Fourth meeting

    Fourth meeting
  • 3/30/2018 11:00:00 AM
  • Project summary meeting

    Project summary meeting
  • 1/31/2019 12:00:00 AM
  • Year Two review meeting

    Year Two review meeting
  • 1/31/2019 12:00:00 AM
  • Fifth meeting

    Fifth meeting
  • 1/31/2020 12:00:00 AM
  • Third year results gathered

    Third year results gathered
  • 2/28/2020 12:00:00 AM
  • Analysis of results

    Analysis of results
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    September 2020

    Final report published

    This trial has concluded and the full report can be viewed in the Documents section at the top of this page (login required - free to sign up). To summarize:

    A wide range of soil amendments were trialed at five farms, predominantly growing top fruit. The data collected has added to the knowledge base on soil amendments, but its applicability is limited as sample sizes were small and there were many variables.


    - Results point towards higher soil organic matter and greater soil biological activity from woodchip use, versus no mulch. However, woodchip can also lower soil pH
    - Woodchip mulches were only effective at weed control when applied regularly as a thick layer or with the addition of a permeable membrane
    - There was a trend in decreased yields for the two crops (apples and potatoes) that were grown in woodchip plots


    - Results on the use of biochar were inconclusive as the dataset was small, but at one site there was increased growth in the trees treated with enriched biochar.

    One of the biggest successes of this group has been in getting people together who work in different ways talking to each other, looking at soil and sharing knowledge and experience.

    Challenges included fitting trial monitoring and set up into busy farm schedules, balancing the rigour vs practicalities of data collection and collaborating over a wide geographic spread.

    Milestone: Analysis of results

    January 2019

    Fifth meeting held at RHS Wisley

    Sixteen people met at RHS Wisley for the fifth meeting of the Soil Amendments for Top Fruit field lab. Updates were given from the triallists, and whilst they are not expecting any definite conclusions at this stage, the interim results are summarised in more detail in the Field Lab documents under "Soil amendments for top fruit update- January 2019".

    The group heard about the upcoming Innovative Farmers field lab looking at the use of willow woodchip mulch as a potential to reduce apple scab (more details on the Willow Woodchip for Top Fruit Scab Control field lab page).

    There was also a presentation from Elizabeth Stockdale at NIAB, who is running "The Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership". The programme is designed to help farmers and growers maintain and improve the productivity of UK agricultural and horticultural systems, through better understanding of soil biology and soil health. The Partnership will work closely with farmers, growers and advisers to draw together and build on knowledge and experience to create accessible guidance and tools to help farmers improve soil health and is looking to engage Top fruit producers to take part in a soil monitoring programme and contribute soil health assessment data to the project.

    Milestone: Fifth meeting

    August 2018

    Summer meeting - postponed


    Please email with any queries. For more information on the Innovative Farmers Programme, please visit the website.

    Milestone: Year Two review meeting

    March 2018

    Early outcomes

    The meeting was held at Eastbrook Farm near Swindon in Wiltshire which is part of the trial. Run by Helen Browning the farm is implementing a 200 acre agroforestry planting.

    The group heard feedback from 4 triallists, and there are two additional triallists (Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons and Liberty Orchard) that are part of the group but have not yet added the amendments (they are going on in the next couple of weeks) so had nothing yet to report.

    It is early days for all the trials, so far the only clear outcomes were:

    - The trial at Iain Tolhurst’s farm found that adding fresh Ramial woodchip (i.e. chip from branches that were less than 7cm in diameter) performed roughly similar to the control, which in his case was composted woodchip. If these results are born out during the rest of the trial this would mean that growers might not need to compost woodchip from smaller wood before spreading or mulching.

    - RHS Wisley trials found weed control much better in woodchip mulch compared to the compost control. Also the P indexes were high, as you might expect. Depending on your soil this might present an issue if you were planning to regularly mulch with woodchip. Also Holly woodchip seemed to hold moisture in the soil better than under the Alder mulch or compost. Further soil analysis will be done.

    - Eastbrook have been recording information using the Sectormentor app. Though it is still too early to see soil health results they believe that they will be able to collect more information about plant growth and yield and therefore in the long term assess the health below ground too.

    The next meeting will be held at Boxford Farm Suffolk in early July, details TBC.

    Milestone: Fourth meeting

    December 2017

    Field lab article published in the Fruit Grower

    Great article on the October field lab open day with updates on the trials published in the Fruit Grower. View the article in the Field Lab docs [free login required].

    Milestone: Third meeting

    October 2017

    Field lab status update meeting held - 2 October 2017

    A meeting was held at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxon. There were 18 attendees including representatives from 3 participating farms. The attendees were a mixture of orchard managers and gardeners, many of whom were there for the first time demonstrating a continued interest in the project.

    There were updates from the trials including from the three participating sites present. See the GREATsoils fruit soil amendments update - October 2017 presentation from the day in Field Lab Documents [Free login required]. This was followed by a presentation by Dr Paul Alexander, RHS soil scientist, on using organic matter as a soil conditioner in horticulture.

    The Day finished with a visit to the Le Manoir orchard where enriched biochar is being tested.

    James Dewhurst led a tour of the Le Manoir

    Milestone: Third meeting

    April 2017

    Reviewed progress and methods

    The meeting was held at Tolhurst Organic in Oxon. There were 18 attendees including 6 from participating producers.

    Anja Vieweger of ORC presented on methods for setting up relatively easy and cost effective field experiments to reliably compare different soil amendments on your field. The trial participants gave feedback on their experiments so far. The group also gathered input for for finalising of the field lab proposal.

    Iain Tolhurst led a field visit of the agroforestry field and trial site, including a woodchip composting and demonstration of the field experiment setup.

    Milestone: Second meeting

    March 2017

    Growers contacted to discuss trial plans

    Sally Westaway of ORC contacted participating producers to discuss their plans for trialling inputs.

    Milestone: Individual conversations with growers

    November 2016

    Content of trial agreed

    An initial group of nine growers decided to take part in the trial. Included in the trials will be enriched biochar, digestate, wood chip, green waste, wood chip as mulch, mycorrhiza, ramial woodchip compost.

    The kick off meeting, held in Kent, included technical presentations from:
    - Dr Louisa Robsinson Boyer of Plant Works will be speaking to us about mycorrhizae
    - James MacPhail of Carbon Gold speaking about Biochar
    - Sally Westaway of ORC speaking about ramial woodchip compost

    There are a number of other growers who couldn't come to the meeting who are interested in taking part. They will be contacted.

    Milestone: First meeting

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