Willow - for fuel

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31 hectares of willow is flourishing ….

Spring 2010 saw the planting of 15 hectares (ha) of willow to provide fuel for the College heating system.  This is part of the Renewable Energy programme being implemented at Gurteen.  The college aims to be virtually self-sufficient with heating costs, in addition to the wind turbine supplying a great amount of our electricity, the extra insulation that has been installed, the new heating control system controlling 28 circuits - the college is moving toward sustainable living.

To minimise the risk of losses due to disease, different varieties of willow were planted in adjacent plots. By the autumn many of the plants had exceeded 2 metres in height. 

To encourage the production of more shoots, the crop was cut in the following Spring. As harvesting in the first year is not economical, the cut shoots are left to recycle their nutrients into the soil. Spray was applied in March 2011 to control weeds.

In February 2011 a large new 270 metre sq. drying floor was installed within the farm building complex in readiness for the future harvested chipped willow, which will be reduced from 55% moisture to 25% in the process; the plant also has been of great use drying corn and hay already last year. 

A further 16.1 ha was planted during April 2011, this was topped in February 2012 to encourage further shoots to grow, some dominant branches increased to 3cms diameter. 

The crop was allowed a further two seasons of growth before the first harvest, which was in January 2013. Since then, 10 ha has been harvested and dried annually, providing most of the college’s heat requirements.