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The original cob cottage is still on the property, part of a now greatly extended homestead. The place has the feel of a comfortable slipper, with dogs, chickens, ducks, geese and peacocks, and old machinery and cars scattered about in testament to a long and rich history. Chamberlain says his grandfather started growing tulips in the 1930s. His father then introduced daffodils; the bulbs were imported from the Netherlands in the 1950s.
The whole family is involved, including John’s wife Cynthia and their three daughters.
It is 22-year-old Courtney who first appears to show Rural News around, clearly as knowledgeable about the operation as her dad.
Courtney is taking a break from studies, half way through a law and commerce degree at Canterbury University. Younger sister Hannah is studying horticulture at Lincoln with a view to also getting involved in the family business.
Courtney says everyone loves the farm.
“We all live at home, even my big sister [Jessica] and her husband. We’re very attached to Hadstock.”
It is also a family affair for the contract pickers, for many years members of a Samoan church who return every season. On this, the first Monday of school holidays, the pickers’ children play noisily on a swing and trampoline at the side of the field.
John Chamberlain says they are now cutting the last of the daffodils. By using different varieties and forcing some lines to bloom early by cooling them to fool them into an early ‘winter’ they get a cutting season from as early as June right through to bluebells in October.
From the end of October they will start digging the first of the bulbs, which continues through January. In January and February bulbs are sorted for selling in February, March and April.
“In May we’re planting and by the end of June we’re picking again,” he explains.
Chamberlain says they multiply their stock from bulbs, but do not breed new lines because it is a very long process to build up a single breeding line to commercial quantities.
Instead, about four years ago they brought in another 10 to 15 lines of double-bloom daffodils from the Netherlands.
“Some will do well and some won’t. That’s always the gamble.”
Courtney adds that they’ve made sure they have only lines that grow well both for cutting and selling as bulbs. They have about 25-30 varieties of daffodils and about 15 types of tulips. King Alfred yellow trumpet is the most popular daffodil.
“They go in cycles,” she says. “Some years Red Cups are popular. This year Trumpets and Early Cheer were the two best sellers.”
The flowers are an easy crop, hardy to just about any weather except hail. But hail is only a minor problem, which tends to hit only a small part of the farm at once. When a hailstone can punch clean through a bloom the flower is past the best picking time by that stage anyway.
Potential pests include narcissus fly, which is well-controlled by hot-washing the lifted bulbs. For tulips, there are some viruses, but the biggest pest is pheasants, which like to eat the bulbs.
Areas of the farm not in flowers at any one time are used for fattening cattle and growing haylage for sale. It allows the fields to be rested and means there’s little fertilising needed.
“For daffodils you don’t really spray. It’s mainly for weed control. For tulips a wee bit, but we’re not big sprayers,” John Chamberlain says.