St. Patrick's Day, March 17, is approaching, which means busy times for shamrock growers in Ireland. The shamrock is the most common symbol of St. Patrick's Day and is often being worn, used as a gift or promotional item, sold for charities and so on. The demand for this symbol is high, and shamrock growers like James O'Leary of Living Shamrock are working overtime these weeks. He sells and markets shamrocks just for this one day of the year. At the moment, all shamrocks (120,000 items) have been sold and O'Leary and his colleagues are busy harvesting, packing and shipping out the crop.

Hydroponic cultivation
The shamrocks are grown in a 0.5 acre greenhouse in Ballinskelligs (County Kerry) and supplied in a skillet pot or in a 'ready to wear' lapel. The shamrocks in the skillet pot are grown in soil, whereas the shamrocks in a lapel are grown hydroponically. "They are cultivated in hydrogel (a polymer that can hold several hundred times its weight in water) and the roots come out of the bottom of the vial and reach the water. This way of cultivation enables us to export them all over the world with a shelf life of 8 to 10 days," says O'Leary.

About 20 percent of Living Shamrock's production is exported to different parts all over the world. "Internationally, our main markets are the UK and USA, but we also send them to the Irish army units and Embassies worldwide", says O'Leary.

Good production
From September to February, the shamrocks are cultivated in the greenhouse, and this year they've had a very good production. "It has been one of the best years." And according to O'Leary, the weather always has a major influence on the crop. "Last year, we had a dark and wet winter. This affected the crop, which limited our availability as we could only finish 80,000 items on time. This year, in contrast, we had a bright and mild winter, which contributed to a good growth of the crop. It was even a challenge to hold it back. We produced about 120,000 items, which was enough to meet the demand."

Home stretch
Over the last two to three weeks, O'Leary has been busy harvesting, packing and getting everything arranged logistically, and he is now on the home stretch. "The greenhouse will be more or less empty on Monday, March 13. So, most work will be done by then. Of course we will still ship out some small orders till March 16."

For more information
Living Shamrock
James O'Leary