Choices as a farmer
When do you decide to go from being a regular farmer to a completely organic one? It’s not an easy decision as Rod and Julie found out. The Highbank Orchard farm is close to Kilkenny and we were welcomed by Julie, after which we jumped on the tractor with Rod who was going to drive us around the orchard.
It was in the middle of harvesting season and that showed clearly as the apples were bright and ripe. The orchard only produces apples that are converted into juice and from there into various different products. All based on the juice. The apples are picked up from the ground since they fall of naturally when they are ripe enough.
Organic to the max
In 1986 Rod made the decision to change his farming method for the apples from chemical to organic. After having sprayed the apple trees for years and years, they couldn’t cope not being “protected” by chemicals so they all died. Rod knew that would happen and also that it would take a couple of years for the natural balance of the soil to recover from years of spraying poison. But slowly but surely things started to look better and from 1994 onwards they are fully organic.
Fast forward to today where they are one of the only orchards that produce a 100% organic apple cider vinegar. A couple of years ago they even stopped using dung around the trees. And as it turned out that was a great decision as the trees and apples are thriving. Due to the completely natural growing method, all natural micro organisms are present in the soil. Yes, pests come in and start munching on the trees but because they made the decision not to intervene with nature, it’s a ‘watch and see what happens’ process. A few years back there was a sudden infestation of a caterpillar that turned out to be quite rare as well. They decided to let nature run it’s course and soon there was an increase in their natural enemies; the ear wig. The ear wigs where so efficient in killing the caterpillars that they almost became scared they would kill all those rare caterpillars (soon to be moths). But it balanced itself out and nature restored itself.
From juice to…..
One of the first products they made is a 100% natural apple cider vinegar. What is special about this vinegar is that there is nothing chemical that makes the juice ferment into vinegar. Due to the existing micro organisms, it’s a fully natural proces producing a delicious vinegar.
But that is not the only product Highbank Orchard produces; there are syrups, apple brandy, apple gin, apple cider and lots of other delicious things… There is a small distillery on the farm as well. Making it a one stop shop for anything apple.
Group tours and tastings
If you want to experience all the farm has to offer you can visit the farm during weekdays for a tour around the orchard and a tasting. Both Rod and Julie are very much into the whole food scene in and around Kilkenny, so it’s been an absolute pleasure visiting them!
Highbank Organic Farm,
Disclaimer: We visited the Highbank Orchard as part of our trip by invitation of the Ireland tourismboard.
More on Ireland? Check out my post on the Causeway Coast Route