“We normally start harvest by my birthday in September and finish just before my daughter’s in November,” says farmer and apple grower Ian Batchelor, who has 40 acres of apple trees in Devon grown solely for Thatchers’ range of ciders. “September is definitely my favourite time of year – the apples sparkling on the trees, with acres of orchards to enjoy before the rush of harvest takes over.”
Alongside a small flock of sheep and some arable land, Ian and his wife Yta first planted Gilly, Jane and 3 Counties apple varieties back in 2013, followed a couple of years later with favourites Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Yarlington Mill and Michelin. We know exactly which varieties we need to make the best cider and work closely with growers like Ian to make sure not only is the quality amazing, but the right varieties are being grown.
“Different varieties harvest at different times, so this is invaluable when it comes to managing what is already an exceptionally busy time of year for us,” says Ian. “The apples are harvested and sent straight to the Thatchers mill for the following morning.”
Ian and Yta’s farm in mid Devon is in the heart of a traditional area for growing apples. With a deep, sandy loam red soil, his ground is free draining and south facing – so the trees absorb the sunlight, all contributing to the best quality fruit. Ian is dedicated to his apples – and he’s dedicated to the bees too!
“The wet spring we experienced this year made me realise the importance of bumble bees and solitary bees,” he says. “We’ve always managed the farm for bees – we have seven hives altogether – but this year I really noticed the honey bees stayed firmly put in the comfort of their hives during the wet weather. It was only the bumble bees and solitary bees that came out to pollinate. So I’m planting more seeds than ever before for the pollen and nectar loving bumble bees. Helping the bees will improve yields – it’s a win win for biodiversity, us and Thatchers.
“Thatchers have given us the confidence to invest in the farm. My father grew apples before me – so as a family we know the industry but having Thatchers support us all the way makes everything worthwhile.”