Our vegetable garden is fully organic and managed using a no-dig system. It supplies a significant portion of our vegetable needs and helps us to feed our visitors. Instead of digging and cultivating the ground, we smother weeds with cardboard/newspaper and well-rotted cow manure.
Using this method, we don’t disturb soil life such as worms and fungal threads which provide many benefits to plants. Every year, soil and plant health improve and the need to water and fertilise decreases.
The no-dig garden is in its 3rd year now and producing very tasty, nutritious, biologically active vegetables. We use polyculture – combining vegetables with beneficial plants and with other ‘companion’ vegetables to increase plant health. We are saving seeds and allowing vegetables to self-seed freely.
We have some trees and shrubs mixed into the vegetable garden and plan to transition it to an open canopy forest garden.
Food forests are food producing systems that mimic forest eco-systems in order to
- produce more food per square metre
- …with less maintenance.
- sequester more carbon
- house more biodiversity …than conventional agricultural systems.
We have a small, 400m2 food forest with
- Apple, cherry autumn olive and juneberry (Canopy layer)
- Blackcurrants, chokeberries, raspberries, goji berries, blackberries and gorse (Shrub layer)
- Rose (Climber layer)
- Mallow, lovage, Ishikura onion, daffodil garlic, sorrel and more (Herbaceous layer)
- Strawberry, wild rocket, sage, thyme, mint, rhubarb, catmint and more (Groundcover layer)
- Artichoke and Maximillian sunflower (Root layer)
We are working on designs for a larger, half acre of food forest.
Cattle managed with Mob Grazing System
We have a small herd of about 10 angus beef suckler cattle who graze on 12 acres of diverse meadow. This is the third year that they’ve been managed using a mob grazing system.
Mob grazing aims to mimic grazing animals’ behaviour in the wild. The cattle are rotated to a fresh, small paddock each day. The grass and other plants in each paddock have a chance to grow long and put on a lot of root mass before the cattle graze and trample them.
The high density of cattle manuring the ground, the trampling effect of their hooves and the plants shedding roots stimulates and increases microbial activity and adds organic matter in the soil. Mob grazing sequesters carbon, increases soil fertility, increases biodiversity and produces healthier cattle.
In reality, this is happening more slowly than anticipated on our farm as the soil is very light and prone to drought and also we need to apply some organic fertilisers to build up the base fertility of the soil in order to optimise the benefits of the mob grazing.
90% of intentional communities fail because of conflicts between people. For this reason, we are committed to practicing and upskilling in Non-Violent Communication (NVC) regularly. We also work with NVC consultant, Selene Aswell, in creating a series of agreements as to how we live together, make decisions, share resources and resolve conflicts.
We planted 6.5 acres of native woodland 6 years ago. It is made up of oak, scot’s pine, elder, birch, rowan and alder. We are starting to see early signs of native woodland ground cover plants creeping in.
We are currently working in conjunction with Laois Offaly Education and Training Board to develop a full-time accredited horticulture course with an emphasis on creating a community food forest.
We will soon provide workshops in sustainable living skills including natural building, upcycling, foraging, agroforestry and basketry.
2 years ago, we planted ¼ acre of coppice woodland, comprising of hazel, alder, oak, willow and rowan. This will provide some of our firewood needs. We will continue to plant more to become fully self-sufficient in firewood.
We are very fortunate to have 100 year+ old hedgerows, some of which can be classed as heritage hedgerows. We do not trim the tops, only the sides to prevent them from obstructing roads. Our hedgerows are rich in plant and animal biodiversity. They provide much needed shelter from the wind and increase soil fertility.
We are currently working on closing up gaps in the hedgerows by planting native trees and shrubs and traditional hedge laying.
We plan to put most of the land into a mix of different agroforestry systems. Animals will be integrated into many of these systems. We are just getting started.
We have a small strip of 12 fruit trees (apple, pear and cherry) which we are underplanting with a mix of other edibles (including blackcurrants, raspberries, onions, carrots, spinach) and beneficial plants (including willow, hawthorn, wild cherry, elaeagnus, rose, comfrey and phacelia).
We have recently been given a hive of honey bees. We are still learning how to best care for them. We have planted a year round supply of nectar for them (e.g, gorse, elaeagnus, comfrey, viburnum) on top of the many wild nectar-rich plants already here (e.g. clover, beaked hawksbeard, ivy).
Salvaging & Upcycling
With help from our wider community/network of helpers and visitors, we are continuously salvaging pallets, building materials and anything else useful we come across. We use pallets as firewood as well as upcycling them into gates, furniture and other things. This summer, we plan to build a shed, a chicken coupe and an outdoor kitchen from mostly salvaged materials. We also salvage cardboard and newspaper for our no-dig gardens.
Humans are the only animals who flush their excrement into the sea and other water bodies instead of returning excess nutrients to the earth. We have only been using flush toilets for about 100 years. In the course of that time, our soils have rapidly depleted whilst the ocean has become dangerously nitrified.
At Coole Eco community, we use compost toilets, also known as dry toilets. Sawdust is thrown into the toilet after each use, neutralizing the nitrogen and smell. When composted correctly for 2 years, the end product is guaranteed to be free of all pathogens and cannot be distinguished from any other rich compost.
Field Scale Crops
We are growing field scale oats and potatoes which we hope to sell this autumn.