New rows of young plants in the nursery garden
I am always reluctant to mention the weather here. Firstly, it's one of those clichés - typically Irish (or English, in my case) - that it’s the first thing we discuss or complain about.
Secondly, in the time between me writing this article and it coming out in print, all four seasons could have occurred and the relevance of my point is lost.
Today, however, was particularly unexpected - a miserable morning turned into a tremendous evening.
We have just come back from a walk around the nursery with himself looking at all the jobs we need to do in the next week. There is always so much to do and so little time to do it.
The next job on the list is caning the trees that have been planted this year and the spreading of seaweed fertiliser through the fields.
I don't often talk about our field production here at Caragh Nurseries, although it is the cog that keeps this machine running, so perhaps I need to give you the chance to see what goes on here.
We have a mixture of fields under production, currently standing at 42 acres, with the remaining 19 planted with a mixture of grass and fertilising crops like red clover and peas.
All the headlands of these fields, as well as scatterings throughout the field, are planted with wildflowers from seeds - some do well some don’t, it's the nature of wildflowers.
A crucial rule for keeping soils healthy is to never leave them bare. Grass is grand but there are also other plants that enrich the soil for us.
Our land can’t just continuously be planted with trees, hedging and plants without getting something in return, so we need to allow “rest” periods by planting cover crops. Cover crops are plants grown to both protect and feed the soil.
Red clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant that has plenty of other redeemable attributes. It provides a dense carpet that prevents weeds and retains moisture. Its roots increase soil substance and it attracts beneficial insects.
Field peas, like many legumes, are also a nitrogen-fixing plant, which add fertility to the soil plus a lot of organic matter. My kids just love going through the fields picking all the peas for salads, or they just eat them from the pods, and we always have enough for some pea soup with mint from the garden.
Top that with wildflowers to build the food for insects, birds, bees and butterflies and we have both enriched our soils for better crops to come and also dynamically improved the biodiversity around us.
When our youngest trees are planted in the spring, we use a planter that requires a driver and two operatives on the back.
In an ideal world it would be easier to stake the trees at this stage and it is always our intention - however, the spring is also our busiest time on the nursery with sales and garden builds, so we would need to all split ourselves in two to get all the jobs done at one time.
Therefore, more often than not, the young trees are caned in early July, which does them no harm at all.
The crucial thing with the young trees and hedging is that they are planted early enough and that they don't dry out. But this is Ireland, I hear you say, there’s no fear of that!
Well, this spring has been the driest on record, and we had to start irrigating our fields to make sure that the crops survived, never mind thrived.
With the loan of a good friend's tanker, we brought two of the students who work with us during the summer months in just to keep watering the fields and protect the new crops.
Later on in the summer, the trees and hedging crops will be pruned hard to encourage better, fuller growth and shape. In other fields, trees are being pruned to make sure that we can move them when they are ready to be lifted.
Some of our mature trees need to be pruned back hard to get the best possible shape, and our shaped and specimen trees need to be trimmed very regularly to get the required denseness to create balls, cones and other shapes.
Our trees are grown in three-year rotations. The youngest trees are lifted after three years, graded into sizes and then split into three sections - one for that winter's sales, bare-root; one to be potted for sales the following spring and summer and one to be re-planted with larger spacing to create bigger trees, and that cycle continues.
We don't sell very young trees. The smallest trees we lift for sales are at 8-10cm girth and approximately 10 feet tall, but where we stand apart from many is the larger, more mature trees that we have.
The trees that we replant go on for another three, and sometimes six or nine, years to create our mature specimens.
Next week perhaps I’ll show you more of the field production, especially some of our shaped stock and hedging.
I hope you find it interesting and an insight into how our stock is grown before it reaches the gardens.