Friday, 31 January 2014

Building a pick your own Orchard

Sue Measuring out the beds for the Apple trees
This teaching year may be hectic but is is extremely interesting. Eileen is setting up a Pick your own fruit Orchard in Blackhill Farm with the help of the FETAC 4 students who are studying fruit as their anchor module this year (this means that a lot of the key skills we do in other modules like plant propagation and plant identification are also bound up with the work we do for the fruit module). We have had a great time going on visits to Irish Seed Savers in Clare and The Apple Farm in Tipperary gathering information and learning as much as we can from experts in (no pun intended) the field of fruit. Apart from the fun of going on field trips we actually found out a huge amount about growing Apple trees in particular and we owe a big thank you to Pat at Irish Seed Savers and Con at The Apple Farm for all their advise and help.By the way ye members of the public do all ye can to support Irish Seed Savers in their time of need.

On the estuary near Glin
This Tuesday we went on to the Shannon Estuary near the pretty village of Glin to collect seaweed for the new apple tree beds. The lads have already built some of these beds using the spacings recommended for commercial planting my I.S.S.A. and Con Traas. Eileen had opened some well matured compost heaps to add nutrients and the final job before planting is to put on the seaweed mulch to add lots of trace elements to the soil for the new trees.We were spectacularly lucky with the weather. Up to the night before it was blowing a gale and pouring rain. But the day dawned clear and calm and it was the first true taste of spring watching the sun fall on the fields as we drove through Carrigkerry cross country to the beach near Glin.

The beds ready for mulching the yellow area is weeds dying off under black plastic
It is good fun picking seaweed but the estuary is completely different from the beach. Its full of mud flats which are dangerous in themselves. Walk across the wrong stretch of "beach" and you get swallowed up never to return. Drift seaweed (freely floating not attached to roots or rocks) was few and far between although when we did find it it was exceptionally fine and soft. Most of the seaweed visible at low tide was firmly attached to the rocks or the pebbly upper shoreline.Although initially it looked like just one type of seaweed it turned out we collected at least 10 different varieties. There was slim to no kelp, which is one of the most important seaweeds of all for plant and human nutrition. In all just three pieces were found on the whole inlet beach! A far cry from Seafield which is fairly awash with the stuff.
sea lettuce was in abundance

Still we managed to be a distraction for the locals who periodically drove down to see what we were up to.  No one came over and asked us any questions they just drove down to the pier, parked, watched us for a bit and drove back very slowly watching us all the time. We made a good effort to wave wildly at everyone who ventured down (at least 5 cars I think!), what they made of us up to our eyeballs in mud wrestling with seaweed in January God only knows! Two of the girls speculated on all the affairs, sneaky local goings on and drug smuggling we had interrupted with our mornings work. A few of us wondered what wild stories the locals had come up with about us in the privacy of their cars. How disappointing for us and the locals that life is rarely as exciting as we might like it to be!

The beds covered in their seaweed mulch

We got back to Eileen's farm in time for a hearty lunch followed by the most delicious apple crumble and custard that poor Eileen had made for us the day before. Despite there being less students and more crumble than anticipated somehow they put a good dent in the supplies, proof if any were needed, that sea air (even diluted by the freshwater and air of the estuary) really gives you a great appetite. After marinating for a bit in front of a hot stove we managed to eventually venture back outside into glorious January sunshine. In the Orchard we pulled back our black plastic mulch and were pleased to see the weeds between the rows had started to yellow and die over the last few weeks.We picked up where we had left off on the making of a third apple bed, carefully pulling out weeds (a job made much easier by the use of the mulch) loosening the earth and removing large stones. Eileen opened more compost heaps for us to barrow well matured compost onto the surface of the new bed. Once done it was simply a case of emptying bags of seaweed onto the beds. In all we used about 12 bags for each bed (36 bags in all) with plenty in reserve for the beds yet to be made. We re-covered the entire area with the black plastic and weighted it down once more.The last thing we did was a bit of seaweed identification before hitting for home after a very satisfying day.

If you want to find out which seaweeds are which here are two good sites for Ireland and the UK;
Seaweeds in Ireland
Seaweeds in the UK

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