Fruit and Nut

 

 
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Research collaborator
   

 

For much of its existence the nursery has relied heavily on short term volunteers and interns to help with monitoring and data gathering. Without their invaluable support, it's unlikely the research side of the nursery would have been able to continue. However, one downside of having volunteers who stay only for a few weeks - at most three or four months - is lack of continuity. To give an example: one volunteer might be really skillful at counting male and female flowers on the cobnut trees in February and March but a later one might not fully grasp the importance of correlating that information with the number of emergent nut clusters later that spring and perhaps the second set of data is not gathered so diligently or between different volunteers becomes mislaid. While ultimately responsibility for any mishaps or losses falls on Andi, the owner, springtime is when 90 percent of the customer orders go out and is a very hectic time at the nursery so the more of the research and data gathering that can be delegated, the better.

It takes a minimum of one full growing season to gain any level of insight into the complex interaction between climate, soil and plants. And the interactions specific to each species of plant are different. But by the second or third season variations in the yearly cycle of growth and decay will become much clearer to the novice horticulturalist and it is at this stage the student will start to gain the confidence to make accurate judgement calls on pruning, ground cover management and other important interventions.

In order to maximise our research potential the nursery is now looking for someone who can commit long term. We're looking for someone already based in Ireland, interested in horticulture and food security, who is attracted to the idea of becoming an authority in something that no-one in conventional agriculture in Ireland knows the first thing about, and perhaps also looking to carve out a specialist niche within the nut growing or food security sectors.

We look upon this as a potentially a long term relationship, starting with a short stint as a volunteer, then if that goes well continuing into a three or four month internship, then a longer term internship combined with part time paid work. Training would be provided throughout this period.

At the end of each phase the trainee and Andi would assess the outcome, and discuss the possible progession to the next stage.

Following completion of the longer period of internship, one of three paths are possible:

1 Part or full time paid work at the nursery

2 Setting up a separate horticultural operation as a sole trader, potentially as a contract grower for the nursery

3 Partnership arrangement with the nursery

The options are not mutually exclusive: for example part time paid work at the nursery could be a stepping stone to setting up an independent horticultural operation or entering into a partnership arrangement. All have pros and cons. The paid work option offers relative income security but wages would have to be set at a level viable for the nursery.

Going it alone as a sole trader offers the potential to develop a successful business, but also carries the risk of it not working out and all the start-up capital being lost. It's not easy! Of people studying horticulture who did their work experience at the nursery, only about one in four successfully made the jump into running their own business (and this would be considered a very high success rate when compared to horticulture students in general). Although setting up in business may seem prestigious, even glamorous, the reality is staying up late at night doing bookkeeping and wading through endless red tape in complying with phytosanitary requirements and procedures, and often working far below the minimum wage! Successfully running a horticulture business requires a completely different skillset from growing plants: a reality rarely conveyed to students enrolled on the typical horticulture course.

The partnership option would remove a lot of the risk: the nursery has endured and survived many setbacks - for example the big freeze of December 2010 when almost all the containerised stock was lost - and is much more resilient to calamity than someone starting up in business for the first time.

 

Trialling work at the new site

Future trialling work will focus mainly on corylus, pinus, juglans, castanea, 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. Given that it will take 2-3 years to improve the land sufficiently for trees to be planted out in final locations, trees will initially be raised in large containers or lined out for several years in specially prepared beds. This system has already proved very successful with pinus, araucaria and the edible oaks at the previous nursery site at Cooloughra.

The pinus are particularly exciting as there is almost no research being undertaken anywhere else in northern Europe and the only historical 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 seventh year of research with the pines, but each passing year brings new information.

From both food security and commercial perspectives, cobnuts (corylus) are also of major interest. As the first large cobnut orchards to be planted in Ireland near their first commercial-scale harvests, Fruit and Nut nursery remains the sole flag-bearer for nut production in Ireland. There is still almost zero interest from either state bodies or farmers' organisations. The only other on-going nut research in Ireland is to be found at the orchards themselves, 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 somewhat constrained by limited resources, our new premises will provide for a further 5-7 years of research (beyond this, shortage of space may become an issue and we may consider moving again).

If you'd like to be part of this pioneering venture, please get in touch!

Prerequirements...

Based in Ireland

Interest in food security and climate change issues

Physical fitness

Previous horticultural experience

Good personal communication skills

Commitment

Willingness to learn

 

Age profile

No one will be excluded from consideration on the basis of being too young or too old, however nursery work requires a good level of physical fitness and capability. The majority of volunteers at the nursery have been under 35 (mostly under 30) and this is likely to be the profile of volunteers going forward. A good question for potential candidates to ask themselves is how physically fit they expect to be in fifteen years' time. If you're expecting the sedentary life by then, a partnership with Fruit and Nut is probably not for you!

Start date

This is flexible but the earliest start date for the intership would be May 2020

 

If you're interested...

Send an email containing a short introduction about yourself, your interests and an outline of why you'd like to get involved with Fruit and Nut.

Please ask as many questions as you want.

 

Further reading

Tree Crops and Food Security

Nut and Fruit Assessment

Visions of Future Food Production