itch fork at the ready, Charley Snowdon participates in a traditional harvest for thatch production in her home village of Shillington and discovers what a proper days, callous inducing graft really is!


Hiding down a winding, Bedfordshire lane lies a quintessentially English farmhouse fronted by vegetable patches and sunflowers facing the morning sun. A contented sow merrily roots in the adjacent orchard whilst animals, both canine and farmyard,cohabit contently, all refreshingly unaware of their identity and as full of character as their dwelling and owners.

The Kitchiners of Shillington A

A Summer of Glorious Graft By Charley Snowdon

explains John. “Rotating the crops keeps the black grass at bay and any wild oats Dad will go out and rogue by hand.” The wheat is cut using an Albion 5A binder driven off the PTO shaft of the families old David Brown tractor. “Wheat that is harvested early will still mature once cut”, explains John.

David Kitchiner

“The reason we do this is because the stems are much stronger when they are still green.”

Shillington Church aka ‘The Cathedral of the Chilterns’, creates a stunning backdrop to the families fields of freshly cut stubble, where pyramid shadows are cast amongst the recently harvested, bound and stacked wheat. “The wheat is cut and put through a binder to tie and make sheaves”, informs David. “We then stand the sheaves ear side up in shocks (bundles) by hand and leave them out in the field to ripen.”

This is the home of five generations of thatch growing Kitchiners. “There’s been Kitchiners in Shillington since the 1500’s”, says the elder of the five generations, David Kitchiner (82). “The family have lived in this house since 1870 when our ancestor Isaac Rust moved from the bakery in Bury Road to here.”

Today, the family farms thirty acres with five acres designated purely to thatch production every year. “We use a Massey Harris Sunshine Suntyne and our vintage Belarus MTZ 52 to drill which can take up to three hours”, explains David’s son John. “We plant an old variety of wheat called Maris Widgeon that can grow up to six feet tall and this year we have one acre of Squareheads Master, we want our wheat tall and strong for thatching.”

Pesticides and fungicides are avoided and the use of fertilisers is limited wherever possible with the family preferring the traditional method of planting and rotating a spring crop alongside their winter wheat. “The problem with over fertilising is the wheat can grow too quickly and weaken the stem”,

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Due to the wheat being stood up in shocks, the hurry to get the harvested crop in before a turn in the weather is more relaxed than your modern day harvest. “The rain flows off down the shocks and the pyramid shape provides protection to the inner sheaves whilst the crop ripens”, explains David. “This is useful due to our minimal workforce and the time it takes to stack the sheaves by hand ready for the threshing drum.”

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