Chestnut Trees and Chestnuts
Home Company Products/Sales Farming Chestnuts Contact

The Farm Log

Farming can either be low risk with low return or it can be a high risk undertaking with little chance of recovery of the investment in time and money. The Washington Chestnut Company Farm is a high risk undertakeing because there are so few others are entering into the commercial chestnut production in the United States. Within this area of the web site we will be providing our clients information about our successes and our failures. Lets start with the early spring of 2006.

Early Spring 2006

The planning and purchase of inital equipment, land lease contract, and buying the trees is performed. We selected Burnt Ridge Nursery as our single source provider of trees. Their knowledge of our local environment and weather conditions aided signifcantly in selecting them. We also set a investment schedule for purchasing equipment like a 18" 3-point post hole digger, 54" 23 hp mower, and other small purchases. The cost per acre is not significant because many of the costs are fixed one time purchases and local employment costs vary by local. The one thing with the highest variability is how many trees per acre you plant to start with. There are many economic models to work from. Since we will see small trees even when they are mature we are placing about 90 trees to the acre.

One of the problems being so far north is late frosts. Our last normal frost date is April 28th. This could be a problem since the chestnut trees will want to leaf out in late April to the first part of May. Over time trees that leaf out to early will die off and be replaced with new trees. Most the the late frosts rarely occure with tempertures below 29 degrees.

chestnut tree leafing out

This picture is of a young chestnut tree leafing out. It is important to notice the formation of the new branches and the formation of the leafs. If frost damages the new leafs the frost damage will most likely show on the edges of the new leafs. If the frost was a hard one, the entire new structure could be damaged and will turn brown in just a day or so. Some people feel at this point in the growth cycle the trees will present problems if they are present. First and formost check for uniform leafs. To many oddly formed leafs could indicate a nutritional problem or the presents of damaging fungus or herbicide damage. If the problem extends to a number of trees it would be wise to contact a master gardener or the agricultural extension service for further investigation.

chestnut tree frost damage

Here is a photograph showing some frost damage to some of the forming leafs and newly formed structure. Some of the chestnut varieties are more prone to frost damage than others. This tree with frost damage is a Basalta #3. Some nearby chestnut varieties are Marigoule and Marival. These trees did not have any frost damage. This does not mean Basalta #3 is more susuable to frost damage than other varieties. It does demonstrate there are times in the formation of leafs and structures where frost can cause damage no matter how hardy a tree might be.

Summer 2006
This summer has been a dryer than normal season. In a normal summer we get at least 2 inches of rain between the end of June and the end of September.  We irragated 2 times with an average of about 2.5 inches of rain each time. There were a few trees that reveived to much water. These trees may die due to the wet roots. The fields were lacking nitrogen resulting in poor leaf color (yellow instead of a deep green) and less than normal new growth. Many of the layered and grafted trees blossemed and had burrs.

To correct the shortage of nitrogen we applied wetable complete fertilizer with micronutrients to the leaves. By mid to late summer the trees were recovering with deepening green in the leaves. The growth was still below expectations so a small amount of 16-16-16 was applied subsoil at the edge of the planting hole dug when the tree was planted.  By the end of summer most of the trees were putting on nice growth.

Fall 2006
This fall has been a dryer than normal. It rained only once in September and did not rain again until mid October. The first frost this year came on September 29th. For the next 4 nights the night time lows were reaching below 30. By the first week of October the Nooksack tree started dropping empty  nuts. By mid October daytime tempertures are reaching the high 50's and the overnight lows are in the mid 40's. The Marival tree dropped its first empty nuts on October 16th.

In the late summer soil and leaf analysis were performed. The soil analysis results are in the tables below.

Soil Analysis of Mineral Based Soil
Component Results
Organic Matter 6.1%
Phosphorus 50 ppm
Potassium 289 ppm
Magnesium 173 ppm
Calcium 1877 ppm
Sodium 59 ppm
pH 5.6
Nitrogen 34 ppm
Sulfur 13 ppm
Zinc 1.7 ppm
Manganesse 5 ppm
Iron 96 ppm
Copper 1.8 ppm
Boron 0.5

Soil Analysis of Organic Based Soil
Component Results
Organic Matter 47.9%
Phosphorus 4 ppm
Potassium 58 ppm
Magnesium 226 ppm
Calcium 5235 ppm
Sodium 325 ppm
pH 5.4
Nitrogen 105 ppm
Sulfur 26 ppm
Zinc 1.8 ppm
Manganesse 3 ppm
Iron 130 ppm
Copper 0.6 ppm
Boron 2.2

These results are without amending the soils in the past 2 years. Prior years the mineral based soil had sweet corn grown on it. The soil amendments from those prior farming activities has resulted in the P-K-N readings being higher than normal.

We collected chestnut leaves in early September and sent them to Soiltest Farm Consultants, Inc in Moses Lake, WA. In the future we will use A & L Wester Agricultural Labortories in Portland, OR. They provide excelent service and have significantly more experience with working with nut producers.

Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leaf Sample
Component Results
Nitrogen (NO3) 3%
Sulfur 0.24%
Phosphorus 0.20%
Potassium 0.80%
Magnesium 0.23%
Calcium 1.19%
Zinc 44 ppm
Manganesse 510 ppm
Iron 142 ppm
Copper 7 ppm
Boron 48 ppm

Planning is underway for the 2007 planting of chestnut trees and preparing fields for tree plantings in 2008 and 2009. Most of the work in preparing fields for future plantings is leveling the soil, removing brush, planting orchard grass, and laying out the plot for the trees. One of the problems we are working to resolve is designing a fertilizer plan for the trees based on the soil analysis. Since we have 2 very different soil types we are going to use 2 different fertilizer formulations. For what is locally called peat soil, the formulation (yet to be reviewed by a fertilizer expert) is N-0%, P-19%, K-19%, Copper-2%. For the mineral based soil the formulation N-16% (urea 75%, amonium sulfate 25%), P-0%, K-8%, magnesium-2%, sodium-2%, Boron 2%. These formulations are up for review. One pound of fertilizer will be applied to the soil surface under the canopy of each tree.

The best growth of any one chestnut tree for this year was from a Colassal grafted tree. At the start of the season the tree was 3.5 feet tall. At the end of the growing season the tree was 6.9 feet tall. The tree is in a mineral based soil classified as a the world reknown great growing medium -sandy loam-.

At the end of the 2006 year the best advise for those trying to start a comercial chestnut orchard is:

  • Check your soils with a professional soil analysis lab
  • In early August have a leaf analysis performed
  • Don't let the soil dry out during the first growing season for new trees
  • Don't overwater during the growing season - this will kill trees - See the Wet Trees page
  • The experts say "Don't fertilize the first year." If your soil has deficiencies, correct them with fertilizer as soon as they are discovered
  • If you want nut production quick, don't prune your trees
  • If you want a health strong orchard prune whenever needed
  • There is no standards for growing chestnuts - your a pioneer, do your best and pray over the rest