Thursday, February 11, 2010

January 2010

A Real Winter for Ireland
.....and the cats are not happy about it! This is Jenny, our friend Phil's cat. We spent most of January house/cat-sitting for Phil (short for Philomena) in Ennis. Phil taught in Uganda for 3 years in the 90's, and she went back for 6 weeks this winter to visit her friends there. She picked a great time to be away, and it worked out really well for us as our water was frozen at the cottage.

A lot of people here had frozen pipes for weeks. Since it's usually rare for it to go much below freezing the water pipes are buried just a few inches under the ground. We were lucky to be at Phil's house in town: central heating, municipal water, cable tv and walking to the pubs in Ennis for some late night sessions.

Jenny usually loves being outside but she couldn't deal with the cold white stuff on her paws.

Variegated holly with a dusting of snow

Frosty grasses

Clare Coast
One sunny weekend day we zipped over to Kilkee where there is a lovely public walk along the cliffs.

We hadn't been there long when a wall of fog moved in off the shore. For a while we walked right at the edge of the fog - as thick as pea soup on one side and bright sun shining on the other side.

Irish Seedsavers
Wow, it's been an incredible and intense first two months as manager at Irish Seedsavers. Working with a dedicated and passionate staff of sixteen, dealing with funding cuts, bank managers and the Department of Agriculture, and learning about all of the many interesting projects that take place there. I feel really fortunate to have such an interesting, challenging and meaningful position where I can use my past experience and also learn so much.

And to every boss I've ever whinged to (or behind their backs) - I'm sorry! Things look a lot different from this side of the desk!

So what do we do at Seedsavers, besides save seeds? Seedsavers is one of only two commercial seed farms in Ireland, and specializes in organically grown Irish seeds, potato and apple varieties. Seed crops are grown out on various parts of our 20 acre farm as well as on some off-site locations (to prevent cross-pollination within some species). We also graft and sell thousands of young apple trees each year, grafted with scion wood from our antique Irish apple collection.

Workshops run every weekend from February through November, covering a huge range of gardening topics plus classes on sustainable living, cooking, health, green building, etc. It's a busy, busy place, and with spring just around the corner we are starting to rev up now for seedsowing, apple tree grafting and spring planting.

C'mon and take a tour.......
This is our main building, with retail space, cafe and offices. This building is just three years old, it was built with 'green' materials and has solar water collectors on the roof.

Inside the shop/cafe - a retail seed board, tools and snacks/teas/jams along the back wall.

The other side of the cafe - books for sale and membership info. The kitchen is on the other side of the book display.

My office. It's shared with a few other people as needed.

Just outside the main building we have a cob oven that was built as part of a workshop a few years ago. It's used for making pizzas for open days and other events and it was featured on an Irish cooking show a few years back.

The cob oven sits under a living roof structure that was also constructed as part of a workshop.

Matteo, orchard manager, and Joe, land worker, checking out the newly arrived rootstocks for this spring's apple grafting.

Newly budded apple trees which will be planted out in the autumn. These trees will form the official Irish heritage apple collection, which Ireland is required to have by EU directive. This is one of the reasons we get funding from the Department of Agriculture. The new orchard will be planted in a field near the new building, with each tree labelled with variety name and place in Ireland originally collected.

The cob house, also with a living roof, was built as part of a series of workshops on green building. It's used for long-term ag student/interns and wwoofers that come to work at the farm.

One of the polytunnels that's used for seed production. The polytunnel has screened ends instead of plastic, for good airflow through the tunnel. It's important to keep the seed crops dry and well-ventilated when they are ripening, especially in such a moist climate. On the left is a winter pea, on the right, lettuce, and in the background a cover crop called phacelia.

The 'motherbeds' for propagating soft fruits: red and black currants, gooseberries, worcesterberries and jostaberries. Soft fruits love this climate and start producing one year after planting. They're good sellers for Seedsavers so we're increasing production this year.

Cuttings are taken from the mother plants and stuck right into the propagation beds, which have a layer of sand below the soil.

A gypsy caravan that's on loan to Seedsavers. It needs a little work but we would like to fix it up for a wwoofers other seasonal workers.

Spring cabbage that will go to seed this year. A lot of the seed crops are biennial and so must be in the ground for two years to produce seeds.

This is the Blue Building, which was the original place for offices, workshops and sales. Now it's used for seed packing, a staff lunchroom, and a little office space for the orchard and garden coordinators.

One our Irish apple orchards. I can't wait to see them in bloom in a few months.

These geese are part of a cool new project. Before mowers and weedwackers, geese were used in orchards to keep the weeds down while providing continous fertilizing! There are a lot of fox in the area so they are kept in a moveable pen that can rotate around different parts of the orchard with their night-time house in the center. They are doing a great job of keeping the orchard neat and are much more pleasant to see and hear than gas-guzzling machines! We want to expand this to idea to other parts of the land this year.

Eoin and Geraldine are digging up beets, which will be replanted in one of the tunnels for seed production mode.

Looking across to the other side of Seedsavers land, which is spread out over two facing slopes with a road down the middle. The garden beds in the foreground are all either mulched with cardboard or planted with rye cover crop. In such a wet climate it's best to cover beds so they don't have nutrients leached away by rain. (Coming from a snowy climate, Bill and I didn't know this and have been leaving our beds uncovered in winter.)

The self-rooting orchard is on the other side of the sponsored native woodland.

The self-rooting trees have clusters of roots starting to form all over the trunks.

Close up of the root clusters. These trees used to be called 'pitchers', because you could simply pitch a branch onto the ground and it would start growing!

Five thousand rootstocks for March grafting have been temporarily heeled in to this bed and others.

Leeks that were grown outside, then recently moved inside where they will flower and go to seed.

A living willow structure. The new long growth will be woven into the roof.

Raised beds planted with winter rye cover crop.

More apple trees, and the seed drying building and grafting shed in the background.

Enda and Joe getting ready to take the tractor down the hill after a long day's work.