Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 11 December 2016

Grow it Yourself and boost your health and eco credentials

Joe Barry

Published 23/11/2011 | 06:00

THE Grow it Yourself campaign received a huge boost recently when the group founded to promote this healthy activity won this year's Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Award along with a cheque for €200,000.

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Grow it Yourself (GIY) aims to transform the nation's wellbeing, strengthen communities and protect the environment by helping people to grow their own food.

Michael Kelly, who co-founded the organisation, said: "More and more research shows that growing your own food is fantastic for your physical, mental and emotional health. You're eating the healthiest food, getting exercise out in the fresh air, and when you grow as part of a GIY group there is the added advantage of the incredible camaraderie you get from being part of a community."

Mr Kelly also called on the Government to put food growing on the school curriculum, although many schools already have their own gardens to introduce their children to this healthy, fun activity.

I have always tried to produce my own food at home as, like most farmers, I was brought up on the concept that purchasing anything from a shop that one could grow or make oneself was a gross extravagance.

My latest project is to establish an orchard, and having decided on the best site for providing shelter and sun, I headed off to visit the English family's fruit nursery in Co Wexford.

Tom English is the third generation of his family to produce fruit trees for the wholesale and retail markets, and his father Paddy, while now semi-retired, still assists with the orders and day-to-day affairs. Tom's son Ross, although only four, is already showing a keen interest and helps out during time off from school.

Tom's grandfather set up the business in the 1940s, initially growing soft fruit and then expanding into the propagation of fruit trees.

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With more than 60 years' experience behind them, I felt that the English family had to be the ideal people to advise me on what to plant for the future.

I really enjoyed reminiscing with Paddy over the days when my own father would drive to Wexford each week to buy stall-fed cattle from farmers around Enniscorthy and then have them transported by rail for the Dublin cattle market.

I could write a book about the happy times spent accompanying him on his travels up and down the lanes of Wexford and the frequent visits we made to the then almost deserted beaches of Curracloe, Kilmuckerige, Blackwater and Ballyconniger.

There was also fishing at night for sea trout on the Slaney and tall tales of deals made for store horses and greyhounds, all of which seemed in those days to be part of farming life.

But that was in the distant past, and for my future fruit supplies I required professional advice on species selection and how to grow them.

Tom said that using the correct rootstock is the key to success. Most commercial growers use the M9 rootstock for apples, which is apparently almost guaranteed to produce good crops annually that can mature early, are better able to withstand strong winds and won't grow too tall.

He added that if the appropriate varieties are chosen, when grafted on to the M9, one can enjoy fresh apples from August to January, and I should now be able to avoid the autumn glut experienced in the past.

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These rootstocks were not available 50 years ago and are the key to good fruiting and less disease.

The trees can be planted as close as 1m apart but, as I have lots of space, I will opt for 2m as I intend to protect them and graze sheep on the surrounding grass.

I really like the concept of this form of agroforestry as it ties in with all the recommendations for permaculture and makes full use of the available land.

I also intend planting some less common species, such as Quince and Medlar, both old fashioned fruits that can be used to make aromatic preserves and are also attractive ornamental trees.

For soft fruit, I have made a bird-proof cage from the frame of an old polytunnel and covered it with netting wire and, in addition to the essential raspberries and gooseberries, I hope to add a few more unusual hybrid varieties.

Some soft fruits can be harvested in May and, with early apples ripening in August, one can enjoy homegrown fresh fruit for almost nine months of the year. Check it out on www.englishsfruitnursery.ie

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