Fruit and Nut
Updated 31st May 2019
A few weeks ago we received our first consignment of Finnish cloudberry plants (Rubus chamaemorus, cultivar 'Nyby'). Nyby is the first true hermaphroditic cultivar of cloudberry, meaning no more concerns about trying to get the optimum mix of female and male plants. Although this batch of plants will be kept for trialling and breeding purposes, we hope to have a few plants available for sale for the 2019/20 season.
Global warming and nuts
It seems hardly a month goes by without another climate report confirming what we at Fruit and Nut have long been saying: that the world is now on a trajectory for dangerous climate change that will impact upon billions of people during the lifetime of people alive today.
What is becoming more apparent too, is the unacceptable climate impact of livestock farming and of the meat-based diet. Put simply, there is no future for livestock farming as it is currently configured: the climate cost is simply too high. Change must come, both in diets and in the use of land. And among the most promising alternatives to livestock production are of course nuts, which give a protein and lipid yield per acre comparable to livestock farming but without any of the climate costs.
The biggest handicap is not the weather or the soil, but lack of knowledge within the farming community. And with that in mind we urge all landowners everywhere to plant nut trees: if only a dozen trees for providing nuts for home use, in order to start building that knowledge base that will be so valuable in the future.
We've been saying this for the last ten years, but now IS the time for agriculture to embrace nuts. It is truly shameful that the Irish government is still promoting and talking up livestock-based agriculture.
Moving premises: an appreciation
The nursery has now relocated to east Mayo. Heartfelt thanks to all those involved in the move. Special thanks to Joe Ferguson for the outstanding job of safely moving the cabins, Tom Flannegan (machine work), Meetje and Victor (logistical help with loading and moving crates, Ella (loading and moving crates), John, Laurie and Willie (cabin work), Ciaran N (building and loading crates), Ciaran R (lifting trees and loading crates), Regina (loading and moving crates), Cy and Cleo (general support), Trish (duck care and final sorting), Ian (the offical expert for loading and unloading cabins), Eva Brady (for helping Andi deal with the challenge of organising everything), and the gang at Davy Tool Hire for supplying the machinery and making sure it arrived on time.
And all those other folk - too numerous to mention here - who helped at different times. Without your support, none of this would have been possible.
War on plastic update
When it comes to excessive use of synthetic materials, the horticulture trade is undoubtedly one of the worst offenders, consuming vast tonnages of cling film, clear or black polythene, synthetic weed suppressants, plastic pots and liners, and much more besides, much of it use once and throw away.
Since starting up in 2007, Fruit and Nut nursery has always had a policy of minimising use of polythene and hard plastic. However as from earlier this year we have stopped purchasing polythene or cling film for packaging purposes. Remaining stocks of these will be gradually used up over the next year (originally we purchased sufficient to see out the 2018/19 season but because of more careful usage and greater use of recycled timber in our crates, it will take a while longer to use up remaining stocks.
For the remainder of this season and all of the 2019/20 season all the timber used in our pallet crates will be boards we have salvaged from the giant crates used to transport our plants from the old nursery site.
We will continue to reuse cling film, polythene sheeting and polythene sacking that we salvage from wrapping/ packaging from incoming deliveries/materials, however our longer term objective is to cease trading with suppliers who do not make efforts to minimise polythene and cling film use and find alternative suppliers instead.
The use of non biodegradable materials for weed suppression was ended in 2013. We currently use a sheet material made from recycling paper.
New Nursery Site!
It is with some sadness that the site at Cooloughra - our home for 8 years - has been vacated but the new site offers long term security for the nursery as well many exciting new research and educational possibilities.
The new site is in east Mayo - easily accessible from the N17 and N5 - and the process of relocation is expected to be completed by the end of December. The site is a former meadow (until recently overgrown with briars, willow and gorse) and to fully develop new propagation and trialling beds will take 3-5 years. Although all our older trialling stock will have to be left behind, some of the smaller/younger trees at Cooloughra will be lifted and moved to the new site.
Trialling work will focus mainly on cobnuts, pinenuts, araucaria and vaccinium (see cranberry and cowberry below). The nut trialling will primarily examine nut growing as a food security issue, with particular emphasis on rehabilitating/improving marginal land considered too poor for contemporary agriculture. It is intended that the site will become a demonstration project for how quickly marginal land can be made productive in terms of nut crops.
Training and Education
The move to the new site also signals the start of a new emphasis by the nursery on training and education. In particular we would like to get many more people - especially young people - involved in the work of the nursery, through volunteering, internships and perhaps as long term collaborative partners in tree propagation and research. All enquiries welcome!
Nut Research in Ireland
As we move towards our tenth year of dedicated nut research, it is interesting to look back and observe how the direction of research at the nursery has changed over that period. While we still maintain an interest in fruit, the research aspect has been scaled back and for the next few years will be mainly confined to berries tolerant of acid soils.
Meanwhile, nut-related research continues to expand, notably into pinenuts and araucaria. The pinenuts are particularly exciting as there is almost no research being undertaken anywhere else in northern Europe and the only knowledge of the nut-bearing pines relates solely to their occasional planting as ornamental trees in public parks and the gardens of the big houses. We are only in our fifth year of research with the pines, but each passing year brings new information.
From both food security and commercial perspectives, cobnuts are also of major interest. As the first large cobnut orchards to be planted in Ireland near their first commercial-scale harvests, it is perhaps disappointing that this nursery remains the sole flag-bearer for nut growing in Ireland, and that there is still almost zero interest from either state bodies or farmers' organisations. The only other on-going nut research to be found in Ireland is at the infant nut orchards, where a very small (but growing!) number of growers are now contributing to the collective pool of knowledge.
From our perspective, the lack of interest from teagasc or the universities (or other nurseries) means that for the foreseeable future the nursery will continue to lead the way in Irish nut research. Although constrained by limited resources, our new premises will provide for a further 5-10 years of research (beyond this, lack of space will become an issue).
Up till now the nursery has relied heavily on short term volunteers and interns to help with monitoring and data gathering but now we are looking for someone prepared to commit long term. If you are a young person based in Ireland, interested in horticulture and food security, and fancy the idea of becoming an authority in something that no-one in conventional agriculture in Ireland knows the first thing about, and perhaps looking to developing a livelihood in that area, we'd like to hear from you!
New lines 2019/20
American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Long cultivated for its tart purple-red berries, popular in cranberry sauce, the American cranberry requires moist, free draining acidic ground to do well. Providing those conditions are met, it is very easy to grow.
Large scale commercial producers construct special beds that can be briefly flooded several times a year. This helps reduce certain pests (generally only a problem in large scale production), control weeds and also facilitates harvest. However, for the small scale producer, cranberries can be easily grown on wide, slightly raised beds. An established bed will yield 1-2kg (occasionally 3kg) per m2 (10-20t/ha).
For best results, the water table should be maintained at 30-60cm below the ground surface. The American cranberry does not thrive in permanently waterlogged or very dry ground. The ideal pH is 4.0-5.0 (upper limit 5.5)
We offer the variety Pilgrim, a late high yielding variety with blueberry size purple-red berries, popular in the United States since the 1960s and now grown commercially in Europe. This variety has cropped well at our trial site at Cooloughra.
We believe the cranberry has massive potential in Ireland. Although trialled in the 1980s and 90s by Bord na Mona, the idea at the time was to compete on international markets. Given the two hundred years of experience and know-how of the American producers, this was always going to be wishful thinking. However, for niche Irish markets, the cranberry is a potential winner.
Cowberry/Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
Closely related to the cranberry, the cowberry is native to many European countries including Ireland. It is cultivated on a large scale in many countries, notably Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. The berry is similar to the cranberry but sweeter and less astringent. It prefers drier, well drained acid land but is much more tolerant of wind than the cranberry and will do well in Atlantic coastal regions. To the best of our knowledge it is not cultivated in Ireland.
We offer the following varieties:
Koralle. Light red berries, highly productive and reliable cropper. Slightly fussier in its soil requirements (requires very well drained soil)
Red Pearl. Dark red berries, more tolerant of less-than-ideal soil conditions but yields can be more variable.
Both varieties are highly ornamental.
Growing cobnuts in Ireland: An examination of the commercial potential of cobnuts
New updated and revised version of the 2014 document. Included for the first time is cultural information for growers. From orchards examined by Fruit and Nut during the period 2014-2017, it is clear that poor or haphazard maintenance is a reoccurring theme. The new document places much more emphasis on site maintenance, particularly ground cover control. The document is now available upon request (pdf).
Latest research: Why cobnuts sometimes have very poor crops
On-going research from Fruit and Nut has determined that mild winters are causing cobnuts to produce male flowers earlier in the year. In some cases the male flowers are finishing before the female flowers emerge. Given the reality of global warming (and in Ireland's case milder winters), this trend is likely to become more pronounced. For the cobnut grower, the best remedial action is to planting at least one variety with late male flowers (for example Cosford). The nursery is working on developing a new very late flowering variety by crossing a particularly late flowering wild hazel (found growing close to the nursery) with Cosford.
Seed grown chestnuts, walnuts and heartnuts not a reliable way to get nuts
We hear an increasing number of stories from people who planted seed grown chestnuts, walnuts and heartnuts, who are disappointed with the small or nonexistent yields. Our view is that as far as reliable nut production is concerned, seed grown trees of these species are not worth the gamble.
Yes, with a large enough trial population some trees are bound to do well and this is of interest to researchers such as ourselves looking to develop improved varieties but for successful nut production, we strongly advise using grafted or stooled trees of named varieties proven in Irish conditions.
However, seed grown trees of some other nut species do succeed: for example pinenuts and monkey puzzle trees. In these cases named cultivars do not exist and most trees are still raised from seed.
We are currently trialling several thousand pinenut trees raised from seed. We hope that with such a large number in the trial, some favourable genetic characteristics will emerge, for example precociousness (the ability to produce nuts as a young age) and adaptability to Irish climatic conditions.
The Future is Trees project - update
The nursery has been contacted by a number of landowners in relation to this project. So far, all the sites offered have been unsuitable, the main reason being that they were situated too far from our base in county Mayo. In several cases, the terms of the lease offered was non-viable (the period of lease was too short). For the project to be viable, the minimum period of lease is 50 years. Further details can be found here