Ann Fitzgerald: 'Laying the roots for an exciting new venture in forestry'
I'm delighted that we're starting 2019 on an energising note inside the farm gate, as we have just completed the planting of eight acres of forestry.
The work began the week before Christmas. A Hymac came in and, using a purpose-built bucket, dug a shallow channel and deposited the collected soil in heaps on either side, travelling up and down the field, creating some 13,000 mounds in the process.
The 'trees', which are only about 18 inches tall, were then planted into these molehill-like mounds by hand.
We had wanted to plant a patch of native woodland but a soil sample showed that most of it was too peaty, so instead there's 90pc Norway spruce, with the remainder made up of birch, alder and mountain ash, supplied by None-So-Hardy Nursery in Wicklow.
Our forester is Gerry Blake from Offaly and he worked through the festive season, pointing out that the conditions for planting are so good at the moment that he couldn't let it pass. What fantastic dedication and enthusiasm!
We had hoped that the job would have been done this time last year but the required permission took longer than anticipated. We now realise it was probably a blessing in disguise because a lot of trees planted last spring failed.
We visited the 'plantation' (and visitors were all eager to have a gander) several times over the festive season.
On the first occasion, we found the Hymac had lifted the base of a tree about 8ft long. We don't know what species it is but it looks impressive and we intend to place it in the garden as a feature.
The planting has also given us a chance to find a home for what are unflatteringly (and unfairly!) called my 'buckets of woody weeds', which reside along a wall in the yard.
Every autumn, I collect tree seeds - easy to germinate ones like oak and chestnut - and stick them in old mineral buckets filled with compost/soil. Some don't germinate, a lot do. I also collect saplings from the likes of ash and aspen.
I always have the good intention of planting out those that survive around the farm. But that doesn't always happen quickly enough and I often end up with a mass of stunted trees and tangled roots.
Mind you, one thing I didn't have to plant out were any year-old oaks.
On a Sunday walk on the farm in November 2017, we came across an oak, under which the ground was peppered with acorns. We picked up around 100 of them.
I said to myself that I would do things properly this time.
First, I worked out which seeds were viable (those that sink in a bucket of water are good, those that rise to the top don't have the necessary nutrition left to weigh them down.)
Then, instead of packing them into buckets, I made up 70 individual pots.
I was eagerly looking forward to their appearance.
But, walking down the yard one morning last March when the country was shivering in a bitter polar airstream, I noticed a 'dent' on the surface of a pot right where the acorn had been planted.
On investigation, I discovered the acorn was gone. Other pots told the same story.
But what had happened? Other than the vanished seed, the pot was undisturbed.
The mystery was solved a couple of days later.
Passing by the kitchen window which overlooks the yard, I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, a crow perched on the edge of a pot.
He focused for a moment then pecked out the acorn as delicately as a jeweller would lift a diamond with tweezers.
I like shooting photos of interesting stuff but, in that moment, I'd have preferred a gun.
There is a saying, 'The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the next best time is today'.
Happy New Year.
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