BY JACKIE KEOGH
SKIBBEREEN’S Community Orchard is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month.
Like the old saying: ‘Out of acorns grow mighty oaks,’ the Community Orchard started with a volunteer crew of just seven people.
‘Over the last five years, the project – which today enjoys the support of the international body, Grow It Yourself (GIY), and the highly successful local organisation, A Taste of West Cork Food Festival – has grown considerably,’ said Marian Crudge, one of the volunteers.
In March 2010, nine apple trees, one plum tree and five nut trees were planted in the orchard at Gortnacloghy – a small parcel of land measuring one-eighth of an acre adjacent to the Caol Stream.
‘Thanks to the foresight of Sustain West Cork – an organisation that received funding and decided to plant fruit trees in urban areas – Skibbereen Town Council donated the plot to the voluntary group. It was a landfill tip,’ said Marian, ‘but we could see the potential in it, especially because of its central location.’
Andy Kenward, another volunteer, explained: ‘There was little or no topsoil and it was a bit of a struggle to find suitable ground to plant the first bare-rooted trees.
‘We are pleased to say that the trees were purchased locally from Woodkerne Nurseries, which is located just outside Skibbereen town, and that they have helped maintain the trees ever since.’
The group – which has since grown to include 15 volunteers – waited with baited breath for the first green leaves, fearing that they might, in the interim, have killed them with kindness.
‘We went to great lengths to improve the soil and provide the trees with good nutrition and water – all of which had to be brought to the site,’ said Brendan O’Connor, yet another volunteer.
Those early efforts attracted the attention of children living in nearby estates, all of whom happily visited the site and helped to spread seaweed, which is an ideal provider of minerals for fruit trees.
They also enjoyed seeing the creation of paths using woodchip, which is the best mulch for the orchard as it mimics a forest garden.
This year, the involvement of children has extended to 16 primary schools in the West Cork area including: St Joseph’s, St Patrick’s, the Gaelscoil and Abbeystrewery in Skibbereen, as well as Rathmore, Scoil Bhride in Union Hall, Lisheen, Kilcoe, Maulatrahane, Leap, Castlehaven, Dunmanway, Drinagh, Scoil Bhride in Bandon, Ballydehob and Derryclough National School.
Elsbeth, a volunteer, explained that the children not only learned about the care and maintenance of fruit trees, they also developed their own dedicated raised beds where they planted salads, onions, herbs and fruit bushes.
The school visits took place in September 2014 as part of A Taste of West Cork Food Festival. The festival kindly sponsored the preparatory work that went into establishing this ‘Garden of Eden’ for Skibbereen.
The initiative was a first not just for the Community Orchard project but also for the food festival and it will be an ongoing project.
The sponsorship provided by the food festival organisers was also used to put in place a beautiful hand-carved wooden sign at the centre of the orchard, as well as a notice board at the entrance.
GIY Skibbereen – a voluntary organisation whose aim is to help people grow some of their own food – was also pleased to receive support from Grow It Yourself Ireland in conjunction with AIB and the Get Ireland Growing Fund. Some of the funding was used to provide wooden seating and to pay for additional raised beds.
GIY Skibbereen is happy to continue to work with local schools and Marian Crudge said: ‘We would like to invite them to re-visit and re-plant their adopted beds for the Spring and Summer season.’
A class from the Gaelscoil in Skibbereen return monthly with their teacher, Aisling, and a parent, Jacinta French, to tend their patch.
‘It is great to see them enjoying working in the garden and it is amazing how much knowledge they have acquired in the short time that they have been visiting the orchard,’ said Marian.
The project would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship provided by A Taste of West Cork Food Festival and GIY Ireland, as well as the donations of herbs, vegetables plants and fruit bushes the volunteers received from local garden centres and interested gardeners.
At 2pm on Saturday, March 28th next, there will be a demonstration of how to make a raised bed on a green site for planting potatoes. For further information, contact Marian on 087-9972899.