MSc in Organic Horticulture – an inspiring year

Elaine McKeogh, a graduate of the MSc Organic Horticulture writes about her year at UCC: 

The first graduating class of the MSc Organic Horticulture

The first graduating class of the MSc Organic Horticulture

My year spent studying for an MSc in Organic Horticulture is now  complete, with the graduation ceremony held in UCC recently. It was a fantastic year, and a real luxury (in a hard work sort of way!) to have time to sit and think and talk and study about why it is that we grow the way we do, why it’s important to work with the natural resources and biodiversity around us and to minimise the impact that we have on our soils and our environment where we can.

Our type of small scale horticultural enterprise is a model for how to use the land to produce the maximum variety and quality of food without destroying wildlife or the soil on which it all depends. From a small field we are able to produce over 50 different food crops, from salads and herbs to cucumbers and chillis, as well as a variety of soft and top fruits and nuts. We have our own eggs, meat and preserves from various fruits. All in all we produce a lot of the food for our family and supply produce to many families in our area.

We use as much natural fertility from compost, manures and green manures (eg. clover, ryegrass) as possible to make the most of on-site resources. We plant flower strips, have beetle banks and nettle strips and encourage as many beneficial insects as we can, to help us manage levels of pests around our crops and provide habitats for bees. We were doing all of this before the MSc, but now it’s nice to be able to pinpoint exactly why all of this is important and helps our small piece of the planet to stay healthy and keep us healthy too!

I am very aware that we are extremely lucky to have the space in our garden to make this happen, and have also been lucky to have had fantastic teachers over the years, both in UCC (thanks Peter, Eoin and Klaus), and from the start from Jim Cronin in Bridgetown. My overall impression on reflection is that everyone should and can have a little piece of the planet producing at least some of their food for them. It doesn’t have to be a full scale farm, it doesn’t even need to be a field. If you have a corner of your garden that can be used to grow you will be amazed that in no time you can be eating several meals a week with food that has every vitamin intact, no chemical residue and has travelled a total of zero food miles. Window boxes, patio containers and even compost bags can be used to supply regular salads, herbs or a crop of potatoes if no garden space is possible. Growing can be on any scale and the food you grow yourself is the best tasting food you will ever eat. The more people who grow the more we realise how precious food is and how important it is to protect the resources that we have to make this magic happen.

With all of this in mind I am keen to share whatever I know about growing food and self-sufficiency with anyone who has an interest and would like to produce some of their own. Our Good & Green training group started recently for homegrowers who would like to learn or improve their growing skills to get reliable results for their efforts. We will run a weekly low cost training session  and support group with specific topics and advice on all of the main crops in our garden.

The debate about how we can feed the world starts in all of our own homes. We can all grow the best food for ourselves – but be warned… it’s addictive!

The MSc Organic Horticulture is now accepting applications for the academic year beginning September 2014. See here for details.

Elaine runs Good and Green in Ogonnelloe, Co Clare. More information on her work at goodandgreen.ie and a snapshot in the video below.

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