Fruit and Nut

 

 
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Research collaborator
   

Research person/nursery trainee

Up till now 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. One volunteer might be really good at counting male and female flowers on the cobnuts in February and March but the next one might not grasp the importance of correlating that information with the number of emergent nut clusters later that spring and perhaps the data is not gathered diligently or between different volunteers becomes mislaid. While ultimately responsibility for any errors 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: the more of the data gathering side 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 each species of plant is different. But by the second or third season variations in the yearly cycle of growth and decay become much clearer and it is at this stage the novice grower can begin to make 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 nursery would assess and discuss the outcome. The trainee can of course choose to terminate the agreement at any stage (the nursery would only terminate if the arrangement was proving unworkable and all possible remedial avenues had already been exhausted).

The subsequent phase could take one of three possible paths:

1 Full time paid work at the nursery

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

3 Partnership arrangement with the nursery

The options are not mutually exclusive: for example full 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 percentage for horticultural students in general).

The partnership option would help spread those risks: the nursery has endured 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 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. Given that it will take 1-3 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 in specially prepared beds. This system has already proved very successful with pinenuts, araucaria and the edible oaks at Cooloughra.

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, Fruit and Nut nursery remains the sole flag-bearer for nut growing 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, we'd like to hear from you!

What we're looking for...

Someone based in Ireland (candidates from other EU countries, prepared to relocate to Ireland will be considered)

Interest in what we're doing

Physical fitness

Some previous horticultural experience

Commitment

Willingness to learn

 

Age profile

No one will be excluded from consideration on the basis of being too young or too old, however 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.

Start date

This is open ended but the earliest start date would be April or May 2019

 

If you're interested...

Send us 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.