Willow - for fuel
31 hectares of willow is flourishing and the first third has been cropped, 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.
Spring 2010 saw the planting of 15 hectares of willow to provide fuel for the College heating system. This is part of the Renewable Energy programme being implemented at Gurteen. To minimise the risk of losses due to disease, different varieties of willow were planted in adjacent plots. By autumn of 2010 many of the plants had exceeded 2 metres in height. 2012 sees dominant branches gaining 3cms diameter.
A large new 270 sq.metres drying floor was constructed within the farm buildings to prepare for the future dying process, the willow will harvest at approx. 55% moisture and will be reduced to approx. 25% following the process. The drying floor is also useful for drying grain and hay.
To encourage the production of more shoots, the crop has was cut in spring 2011. 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.
The crop will be allowed at least a further two seasons of growth before the first harvest, which was early 2013. If yields are satisfactory, it is envisaged that harvesting will be every 2 years.