Fruit and Nut
Updated 18th May
Webbs prove the toughest and most adaptable to harsh conditions
Halls' Giant has long enjoyed a reputation as the cobnut most likely to succeed in tough conditions however the award for the toughest variety goes to Webbs, after it out-performed Hall's, Cosford and Nottingham in a trial bed on the edge of a bank of peat here at the nursery. The bed had very poor drainage so was permanently wet throughout the winter but has become bone dry and rock hard in recent weeks. The cobnuts were finally rescued earlier this month and replanted in a kinder place. Unsurprisingly given the harsh ground conditions the trees hadn't grown much in the last year but only a small percentage of plants had failed. To compensate from being moved barerooted in such uncompromising weather, the heads of most of the trees were chopped off, leaving most of the trees with just a bare stem and the trees were watered generously immediately after planting. The Webbs have been by far the fastest to develop new buds (new buds on around 30% of plants after 7 days) followed by Halls and Cosford (both around 10%) and almost no activity at all on the Nottingham (<2%). The explanation for the big difference between varieties is that the Webbs just have much better root development and are able to capitalise quickly on any available water. Nottingham, by contrast, have quite poor roots, especially in the early years. All four varieties had mycorrhizal activity on the roots (probably a legacy of our previous site) but Webbs, having a greater quantity of fine roots, had by far the most.
Social distancing for elderberry plants
This year - the first year since the early days of Fruit and Nut - we are growing elderberry cultivars. The two year plants are in pots and will be grown on for two more years before planting out in final positions. We had a sharp reminder of the attractiveness of young elderberry plants to slugs when we took our eye off the plants for a few days back in Aprill and found that all but two of ninety plants had been munched. In the worst cases the slugs has stripped the bark from the young wood.
The plants had been sitting on pallets and were quite exposed so not exactly prime slug territory but slugs really like their elder and they will travel. The plants were moved to a raised deck, and the pots spaced out across the deck so that no stems or pots are touching, and are inspected at sunrise every morning.
The Danish variety Korsør has recovered the fastest, with new growth on 80% of the plants. The Austrian variety Haidegg 17 has been slower, with recovery so far at about 65%.
The plants are due to be potted up from P9s into 3l pots sometime in the next few weeks. The current space occupied by the plants is needed for other things so a special raised deck will be constructed where the plants will be kept apart and the boards on the decking too widely spaced for slugs to cross.
Relentless slug damage to young plants was part of the reason why the nursery stopped selling elder plants back in 2012. At the time the nursery was struggling to survive and the elder were not a priority. Anyone thinking of buying P9 plants from us in 2020/21, take note: you must have a plan in place to deal with slugs.
Fruit and Nut Food Security Challenge
The nursery is now a designated food security project, with the objective being to produce 50% of all the dietary calories, protein and fats used on site by autumn 2024, and 100% by autumn 2028. Just to highlight the scale of the challenge, the nursery currently has no available tillage grade land and has no fruit or nut trees planted out into final positions. All the land here is former bog (used for rough grazing until about 25 years ago) and has never been previously used for food crops.
Three potential plots totalling approx 400m² have been allocated for field crops (grains, pulses and roots) in 2021. Work on the two of the plots has already begun. A further 200-400m² will eventually become available, potentially bringing the tillage area up to 800m² (approx 1/5 acre). This is the maximum area of land available on site for tillage. In addition, it is hoped to find suitabe locations for 60 nut trees, 30 fruit trees, and 100-200 berry bushes.
Further updates will be posted as work progresses.
The nursery has now gone into full protective mode. The nursery is a virus-free zone, with no visitors, workers or other personnel coming onto site. Andi is handling all the nursery maintenance and is not leaving the site.
We have suspended all collections and deliveries until further notice. However we are now accepting new orders on selected items for the 2020/21 season. Containerised stock can be collected/delivered as soon as the coronavirus threat has passed and restrictions on movements are relaxed (our best case scenario for this is July) while the barerooted season will kick off as normal in November.
What you can do to help the situation
Strict social distancing is essential. And learn how to enjoy it, because you might be doing it for the next 6 months! If you're fortunate enough to have a garden or a back yard, sow vegetables, even in pots. You definitely won't feed yourself but it'll be therapeutic and even if only reduces the pressure on the supermarkets by just one percent, that one percent is worth having. And if the gardening shops are sold out of vegetable seeds, sow flowers to brighten the place up (a lot of flowers are edible too, but make sure you know which ones they are).
If you've been in close contact with anyone known to have the virus or showing virus symptoms (even for just a few minutes) you are a potential carrier of the virus and should completely self-isolate (ideally for 3 weeks). If this is not possible, try to limit your contact with other people
Try not to panic: the world will not end. But if people aren't disciplined, more and more of the population will become infected and the health services will be overwhelmed.
Finally, don't forget there will be people worse off than yourself. Old people living alone, people with disabilities, people frightened or unable to buy the provisions they need. Do what you can to help.
Fruit and Nut
Time to open the debate on food security
Ireland is an agricultural country but because the focus is on supplying export markets it produces less than one fifth of the food it eats. This high dependency on food imports and on long and complex food supply chains leaves Ireland very vulnerable to things going wrong, as the coronavirus epidemic is now demonstrating only too well. Far from this crisis being a short-lived global event, at best it will be 2-3 years before the global food security situation stablises, and in the meantime we can expect steep increases in the prices of many imported foods, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables.
But it doesn't have to be like this. Ireland could produce 100 percent of its dietary calorie and protein requirements, while also slashing agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions. For more thoughts on this, read Andi's document from November 2019 on food security: here
Reality gap in Irish government policies
Reality gap between national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and the trajectory of current policies
Source of information regarding Irish greenhouse gas emissions 2020-2040 attributable to current state policies: Irish Environmental Protection Agency 2019. Optimum trajectory for 80% emission reduction by 2050 and emissions trajectory required in order to achieve 98% emissions reduction by 2045 calculated by Andi Wilson. Note: an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 would be non-compliant with the EU target, which is 100%.
However, it must be said that the EU zero net emissions target date of 2050 is unambitious and does not reflect the imperative to bring global net emissions to zero by the earliest achievable date. The Fruit and Nut position is that Ireland needs to achieve a 45% reduction of emissions (from current levels) by 2030, 65% by 2035, 85% by 2040 and 98% by 2045. The two main strands of this objective are (1) reducing agricultural emissions by 75% by 2030 (thereby reduce total emissions by around 25%) and (2) planting by 2030 sufficient broadleaved trees to sequester carbon equivalent to half of Ireland's current emissions by 2045. The remaining emission reductions can be achieved through savings in the transport and residential sectors.
These proposals build on the food security document produced by Andi in 2019 and will be published in the near future. The original document is can be found at the food security link above.
Note: the 45% emission reduction by 2030 proposed here is actually less steep than the ambitious target set by the Irish Green party (55% reduction by 2030). However no details have been produced by the Green party as to how such a steep reduction might be achieved (Green party please take note! If anyone in the GP has the calculations, we'd be happy to post them here)
War on plastic update
Last season (2018/19) was our final season of buying cling film, bubble wrap or polythene for use in packaging. The nursery now no longer purchases polythene sheeting, bubble wrap or cling film for any purpose. It's quite uplifting to know we're no longer creating new polythene waste. For parcels we are using polythene recycled from wrappings used on incoming supplies (including the bags from bagged compost). For pallet crates we now use much more timber on the sides - where possible using timber recycled from other pallets or crates - which massively reduces or even eliminates the need for wrapping fabrics. Where wrapping materials are still required, these are recycled from the wrapping on incoming supplies.
The next step is to reduce the non-biodegradeable materials coming to us. Where we buy in plants from outside Ireland for growing on, our long term goal is to have all these plants grown by contract growers in Ireland instead, with strict criteria on wrapping materials used in transportation.
This may eventually leave us short of reusable packaging materials (!) but we are investigating the possibility of using heavy duty paper wrapping (manufactured from recycled paper waste) instead.
The solution to plastic waste? Don't be part of the problem!
New lines 2020
Heritage Scottish variety. Eater, sweet and juicy. September/October. Hardy with good resistance to scab. Pollination group 3
Red fruiting sport of Williams' Bon Chrétian. Eater, sweet and melting. Late August/early September Ornamental red tinged foliage in spring. Excellent resistance to scab. Pollination group 3
Both varieties available as 1yr maidens on Quince A rootstock (semi vigorous).
For the 2020 season, we are offering 2 large berried varieties of Sambucus nigra (elder).Prices as per latest price list. Quantities are limited and are selling out fast so order now to avoid disappointment.
Precocious and very yielding Austrian variety from the research station of the same name. Among the largest fruiting of the Sambucus nigra cultivars. Ultimate height 3m+. Yield on mature plants: 15-20kg
High yielding Danish variety. Ultimate height 3m+. Large sweet berries (sweeter than Haidegg 17). Begins cropping at about year 3. Yield on mature plants: 12-15kg
All elderberries now sold out. We hope to have larger quantities of plants available in 2020/21 and will be taking orders from May onwards.
We are offering 2 varieties that are particularly suited to organic cultivation:
Bluejay is a vigorous upright maincrop variety, flowering relatively late so misses the frosts but fruiting approx 1 week earlier than Bluecrop. Available as 1yr plants in P9 pots.
Duke also flowers relatively late and fruits at a similar time to Bluejay. Available 1yr plants in P9 pots and also 2yr plants in P14 pots.
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 varieties Pilgrim, Bergman and Early Black, all high yielding variety with blueberry size purple-red berries, popular in the United States and now grown commercially in Europe.
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.
Draft food security document now completed!
This document examines the current food security situation in Ireland and the Irish government's business-as-usual proposals for agriculture from now till 2030, as outlined in the 2019 Climate Change Action Plan (so-called), and also some radical low carbon alternatives which would not only achieve 100% food self sufficiency in Ireland - instead of the paltry 20% of Irish food requirements currently provided by Irish agriculture - but also provide a significant carbon sink for unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors. The document is here
A follow up study, extending the remit of the low carbon agriculture to include energy crops sufficient to meet agricultural and essential transport fuel requirements (this does NOT include cars!) will be undertaken in the near future.
Other research projectsHow exactly does a country reduce its carbon footprint from around 13 tonnes per capita per annum to zero? Is such a thing even possible? And how do the emission reduction paths outlined at governmental level stand up to detailed scrutiny? If we are serious about achieving a zero carbon future, realistic assessments are needed for every sector of society.
Climate Crisis Timeline
For the climate crisis timelime in pdf, click here
Fruit and Nut to publish alternative climate change action plan
During July, all time temperature records were shattered across a swathe of European countries, in some cases by several degrees. Global temperatures for July were 1.2C above the pre-industrial baseline temperature, scariliy close to the tipping point of 1.5C (which earlier projections showed would not occur for at least another 50 years).
Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice is at an all time low for the time of year, icemelt on the Greenland icecap during July was greater than for the whole of last year, and unprecedented numbers of forest fires rage across Russia, Canada and Alaska. In Siberia alone, 2.7 million hectares of forest are ablaze (roughly equivalent in area to Belgium).
And this is only a tiny taste of what global warming will bring.
The latest IPCC report states that it will be impossible to limit global warming to a safe level without massive change in land use and a paradigm shift in global food production towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” it states.
In repost to the recent climate change deckchair rearranging exercise published by the Irish government (proposals that achieve zero reduction of Ireland's burgeoning agricultural greenhouse gas emissions), the nursery is to publish an alternative set of emission reduction proposals for Ireland, concentrating on reductions achievable in agriculture and forestry. In brief, this will require completely reconfiguring Irish agriculture, ending all imports of animal feed and perhaps reducing livestock production by 90 percent.
At nursery level, the nursery plans to reduce its vehicle related emissions by 50 percent (on 2017 levels) by December 2020, then by a further 40 percent by 2025. The first target (which we are confident will easily be met) will be achieved largely by rationalising vehicle use. In 2017 total vehicle related emissions at the nursery amounted to approx 1 tonne CO2, which compares very favourably to the Irish household transport emissions average of nearly 4 tonnes per annum.
Emissions from energy used at the nursery site for power supplies/heating totalled approximately 0.8 tonnes CO2 in 2017 (compared to average household heating/power related emissions of 3.3 tonnes per annum).
The 2025 target will be met by phasing out the use of a nursery vehicle in favour of cargo bikes and trailers. Transport related emissions will then be mostly confined to long distance delivery of orders by post/carrier, and delivery of incoming orders by carrier to us (combined these amounted to approximately 35 percent of the nursery's transport emissions in 2017, though this has since dropped to around 20 percent). We estimate that changes in nursery practices - for example the phasing out of plastic plant pots - will reduce the volume/frequency of incoming deliveries by 50-70 percent. Further reductions in transport emissions will come from reducing plant imports in favour of plants raised by contract growers in Ireland. Emissions reductions in outgoing orders will be harder to achieve, but our relocation from Westport to near Charlestown places the nursery nearer to the majority of its customer base, and this alone will result in significantly reduced fuel expenditure in deliveries.
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!
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 were 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