Future Growers Seminar

I attended a series of talks on Monday put on by the Organic Growers of Ireland in conjunction with NOTS. We gained valuable insight on what it takes to be in the business of growing organic produce. The message from those working in the field was unequivocal; If you grow it, you’ll sell it. Very encouraging if growing commercially is your persuasion.

For hobby growers, soil equals sustainability

The big talking point was woodchip composting. Contrary to orthodox thinking about nitrogen depletion, Iain Tolhurst taught us not to turn our nose up at mulch and instead tap in to this readily available natural resource to create soil rich in organic nutrients. Compost windrows are piled up with a mix of hard wood cuttings, containing no more that 20% coniferous timber source, and turned intermittently over approximately a year to yield soil material high in humus content. Iain is so converted by wood chip that he gave a full presentation on agroforestry to stress the advantages of biodiversity in managed plantations that ultimately lead to a renewable, sustainable source of biodegradable timber to be rotted down to generate premium top soil.

Coupled with composting is green manure. A soil enricher in its’ own right, green manure acts as an agent for further micro-bacterial break-down of farmyard manures and woodchip compost. The key is min till, or minimum tillage to you and me! The soil ecosystem should be disturbed as little as possible, with concession made when necessary provided counter-balancing approaches such as ground cover cropping and growing green manure are practised.

The humble earthworm holds it all together, and Iain pointed to Darwin’s “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms” as a guide to their remarkable qualities. Vermicomposting and vermiculture is an intriguing area, as is the science of soil generally.

Overall the day was thought-provoking and encouraging, as we not only learned a great deal, we took reassurance that our fundamentals at Glencullen Farm are well grounded. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to realise a vision of a biodynamic smallholding, the allotments in harmony with nature, roughly occupying one-third or an acre of the land, another acre in green manure and wildflower (in rotation as allotment set-aside) and another acre in shrub, hedge and native tree cultivation?

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