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Farm Update

Farm Update

 

I visited Paddy a few evenings ago to get a quick update and hear about the highs and lows of the season so far.

We’ve all had reason to lament the dreadful weather this summer – no opportunity to wheel out the barbeque, no balmy evenings chatting on the patio – but for the growers of north county Dublin the last few months have presented one costly challenge to production after the next. Some great weather in April and early May was followed by winds that ripped fleece from the fields and literally tore crops out of the ground. Trees were shredded and young plants decimated. A very average June was followed by the driest, coolest July in almost fifty years. The last few weeks have been mixed but the rain has been welcomed by growers and their thirsty plants. On Paddy’s farm, the fields are dotted with patches of weeds where crops should have been. He filled me in on how he lost five settings of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, which equates to about €1500 worth of seed, not to mention the thousands of Euro worth of produce he expected and the lost hours of labour involved in sowing and re-sowing crops. Ninety per cent of the pumpkins have been wiped out and production on many of the fruit trees and bushes is way down on expectations. The conditions this year have made the instillation of an irrigation system for next year the top priority for Paddy. To this end, he is currently exploring options for funding through grants and loans. Other priorities for 2012 will be getting a more powerful tractor, to cut down on manual labour, and the development of the farm shop as an outlet for an expanded range of farm produce.

 On a positive note, Paddy can’t say enough about the help he’s had over the last while from the WWOOFers who have stayed on the farm. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a worldwide network of organisations linking volunteers with organic farmers, to help people share more sustainable ways of living. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. Paddy’s volunteers have done an enormous amount of weeding, watering and preparation for next year, and in his own words they are ‘the key to the future’. With their help, the winter cabbage, kale and broccoli has been set, fleeced, weeded and top dressed. They have also been invaluable in adding to the range of produce on the stall. There’s now an even wider selection of chutneys and jams to choose from, and some fabulous cordials which I can recommend whole heartedly.

This year has been a huge learning curve for Paddy and the insights he has gained in 2011 will go a long way in influencing his plans and decisions for next year. The potato crop was a great success so he will dedicate a lot more land to spuds next year. He had a lull in egg production over the last while as the older flock of hens began to produce fewer eggs before their replacements were ready. In fact, production waned from about 115 dozen eggs a week to only about 20 dozen a week at the time of year when demand is highest so Paddy already has plans afoot to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

As for the rest of this growing season, crops doing well at the moment include several varieties of runner and French beans, tomatoes and cucumbers and even some pepper which were set in the tunnels as a bit of an experiment. There are late plums ripening on the trees near the hen house and the apples are looking good too. The winter salad and veg are getting established in the tunnels and fields and there’s still lots to look forward to before the end of the year.

 

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Would you like to have a hand in producing some wonderful organic veg and learn a bit more about where our food comes from? If you have even an hour to spare per week, or a couple of hours per fortnight, your help would be greatly appreciated on the farm. Anyone interested in volunteering is invited to the farm on Thursday 14th April 2011, 7-8 pm, to meet Paddy, walk around the farm and hear what type of help is needed. May and June are particularly critical times so any time you could give would be very welcome.

Enquiries to sustskerries@yahoo.ie

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Paddy has been a busy man over the last number of weeks! The polytunnels are stuffed with seedlings destined for our vegetable boxes – runner and broad beans, beetroot, spinach, chard, lettuce, rocket, scallions, turnips, courgettes, squashes, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, leeks, radish and more. There are herbs too – parsley, thyme and coriander. In the fields are 7000 onion sets, 5 drills of parsnip and 2 drills of potatoes. First boxes are ready on May 7th – there’s a date to look forward to!

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Article from ‘Harvest Times’ Skerries CHG Newsletter, March 2011

Paddy Byrne’s farm is beautifully located overlooking Skerries, just down the road from the gates of Ardgillan Castle. Paddy’s family has farmed in Blackhills for four generations and Paddy remembers pulling his weight as a five-year-old, picking up rubbish on the farm and  feeding the cattle and horses they kept at the time. In the 80’s, Paddy left farming for economic reasons but fourteen years later, in 2000, he decided to give it another go and try a new approach – organics. Paddy was initially interest in organic growing as it produces a higher value crop which makes sense on a small farm, but is in direct contrast with the monoculture so prevalent in North County Dublin. Most farms in our area rely on massive inputs of chemicals and machinery to produce bland fields of a single, lower value crop. Initially Paddy converted one field to organic and dabbled in growing different veg, to varying degrees of success, and after three years he decided to invest heavily in farm buildings, machinery and infrastructure in order to make the farm a more viable business. Paddy now has 15 acres of land which is certified organic by IOFGA and four polytunnels which are essential to extend the growing season so that we can enjoy our veg earlier and later in the year than would otherwise be possible.

 In 2005 Paddy decided to add 50 chickens to the farm and offer eggs for sale directly from the farm. As demand increased so did the flock and he now has 500 chickens and 70 ducks which are producing about 120 dozen chicken eggs and 16 dozen duck eggs per week. The birds are free to roam during the day and peck about in the fields and they are locked in a few minutes before dark to protect them from foxes. Their diet is supplemented by organic feed to maximize the egg production.

 In recent years, Paddy has planted an orchard of about 60 apple trees and is focused on developing fruit production over the next four years. As well as five varieties of eating and cooking apple, the orchard includes damsons, plums, quince, medlar and crab apple. Other fruit grown on the farm are gooseberries, blackcurrants, blackberries and red currants and in the next few years Paddy hopes to add a significant number of fruit-based preserves, juices and baked goods to the range of products already on offer. This ties in with his plans for a farm shop and separate kitchen, storage and packaging facilities. 

Over the last number of weeks Paddy has been busy planting thousands of seeds in modules in the polytunnels and these are destined to be the vegetables which will fill our first boxes in May. Along with seed potatoes, the tunnels are full of spinach, chard, beetroot, turnip, and carrot seedlings and these will be joined by lettuce and other quicker cropping vegetables as May approaches. The plants are tucked up in fleece which raises the soil temperature by 5°C to protect them from poor weather conditions and they will be planted out when they are big enough and the weather is more clement – we will keep you posted!

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