The Farm Log for the Year 2008
This is our third year of farming chestnuts. The knowledge gained over the
past few years is allowing us to take better care of the trees and a better
understanding of what chestnut consumers want. One of our goals this year
is to perform research in the area of consumer perferences. Last year's
initial casual research in consumer preferences provided some interesting
information. The goal of this research is to deliver the kind of chestnuts
people love to eat.
This year we are adding about 2 acres of new trees and for the fist time
we are starting about 200 new seedlings from seed. If you too are interested
in starting your own chestnut trees then Dr. Sandra L. Anagnostakis'
"Starting Chestnuts from Seed" is a must read.
Our initial plantings from
2006 resulted in many of the trees dying for assorted reasons. With the
help of Michigan State University we found many of the trees died because
of a fungus causing root rot. Since then we have found a chestnut variety of
chestnut trees that are not effected by the root rot fungus. When these
seedlings are a year old we will graft them with some of the top performing
trees in our orchard.
Late Winter 2008
The weather just broke from cold with day time highs in the mid
to upper 30's. Now the day time highs are in the mid to upper
40's. This is not warm enough to wake the trees up from their winter
snooze. The mid 40's is warm enough to pick up on some of the outside
projects like fixing drains and maintenance on equipment.
Late winter is when chestnut growers exchange scion wood. There are
only a few seedlings on the farm so there is little need for scion
wood. There are 5 Precoce Migoule seedlings that need to be grafted
with scion wood so the trees are genetically pure Precoce Migioule
chestnuts. Another grower is sending some Precoce Migoule scion wood.
The grower is reliable and respected in the chestnut grower community
so we know we are getting the proper wood for grafting. In return we
will send them cuttings from an unnamed European X Japanese hybrid
The chestnut seeds we stratified last fall are starting to germinate.
At this point we are getting less than 50% germination. Not all the
seeds were covered properly with soil when the seeds were put to bed.
Mold is a major problem. Next time precautionary steps we be taken to
try to limit the mold problem. An expert will be consulted to help
put a process in place to control the mold.
Visiting the Un-kept Chestnut Orchard
We came across a local chestnut orchard a few miles from our own. The
owner was someone we had known outside of chestnuts but did not know
they grew chestnuts. The orchard is small consisting of about 11 trees.
The trees are all about 10 years old. The property owner bought the
trees from Burnt Ridge Nursery and planted the trees not knowing
anything about growing chestnuts. We can use this orchard as an example
of how to fix up chestnut trees to get the most out of them.
Lets identify some of the issues. The spacing of the trees is causing
the trees to grow into each other. The experts tell us that chestnut
trees require unobstructed sunlight on the nut bearing branches. The
property owner tells us that the trees have not been producing as
advertised. The most amount of nuts harvested has been about 200
pounds. This is less than 20 lbs per tree. One of the trees has never
produced any nuts. Another tree produces great tasting sweet chestnuts
but the nuts are small. This might be a Layeroka chestnut tree that
provides nuts but the nuts are on the small size. The trees have never
been fertilized. Sucker growth has not been controlled.
Lets see if we can set some goals. First, with 10 year old chestnut trees
we would expect at least 25 lbs of nuts per tree each year. So far only
one year has provided the 200 lbs of nuts. The tree that has never
produced will be grafted to a known cultivar of superior quality and size
chestnuts. The orchard will be properly fertilized this year. The trees
will have at least 18" of new growth on the producing branches. All shaded
branches will be removed. Trees growing upright will be top cut to create
a more sprawling structure. The interior of the chestnut trees will be
opened to sunlight. Finally, each tree will be limited to 15' of vertical
canopy. This makes sure none of the surrounding trees will be shaded by
any neighboring trees. Over the next 3 years we should be able to get
production up to 25 lbs of nuts per tree. Then by the 6th year of good
orchard management we want production up to 30 pounds per tree. The trees
will be 16 years old then. By the time the trees reach their 20th fall
season we want the trees producing 35 pounds of chestnuts per tree.
Lets follow the process of getting this orchard into a top producing
chestnut orchard on our Orchard Restore
Early spring this year is coming on April 12. It had been a cool and wet
spring so far. Spring comes to chestnut orchards when the chestnut trees
start to bud out. Once the buds start opening frosts can cause damage on
some types of chestnut trees. From this day forward this year frosts are bad
The orchard here has grass to help manage the orchard floor soils. This
time of year the grass grows so fast we have to cut the grass twice a week.
The cost of fuel for operating the equipment has increased faster than expected
so we are modifying orchard management practices to reduce fuel consumption.
The goal is to have about a 20% reduction in fuel usage for maintaining the
orchard grass. This is a big change so there are likely going to be some
challanges that come up as we work to the 20% savings.
This spring we are adding amost 300 new chestnut trees to the orchard. The
trees arrived in late March but due to the cold spring most of the trees were
planted in the second half of April. The cold weather included some late
April snow and plenty of cold rain. This snow fell on April 21 making it the
latest snow event on the books. If you work out the events here you will find
many of the trees were being planted when it was snowing or snow was on the
ground. The snow did not freeze the ground so the soils were saturated with
water limiting the use of the planting auger. More the 60% of the trees had to
be hand planted using a shovel. Hand digging the holes takes 3 times longer
than using the auger attachment with the tractor.
There is some great news. First we have over 100 seedlings we started from
seed. These young trees will be set out in the seedling beds at the end of May.
Most of these trees are for chestnut breeding with the goal of producing a very
nice chestnut for the market. It will be years before we see any results from
these efforts since it takes 6-9 years for a seedling to produce any nuts. This
next winter's research project is to obtain knowledge on how to shorten this
period from the 6-9 years to 2-3 years.
The second item in the big new is the results of modify orchard management
practices to reduce fuel usage by 20%. We were able to reduce fuel usage by
close to 50%. Aside from reducing fuel usage we were able to reduce labor costs
by almost the same amount. It feels great to help the world reduce the need
for fossil fuels and keep orchard management costs stable. Even with the 50%
reduction of fuel cost, fuel costs have gone up even more than we have saved.
The end result is the cost of farming chestnuts has gone up. Here are two more
examples of our higher costs. One herbicide when purchased in the 2.5 gallon
container went from $25.00/gallon to almost $50.00/gallon. Fertilizers are
essential for commercial chestnut production. This year fertilizer is up 130%
from last year. If the market for chestnuts can not support higher prices then
we are going to see many chestnut orchards take out and replaced with
housing or retail parking lots.
For the farm, this is best time of the year. Sunny days have replaced the
cold damp overcast days. Daylight extends to almost 10:00 PM and the sun
rises before 5:00 AM. The grass that covers the orchard floor grows so fast
we have to cut it once a week or more. This summer is a little different than
most in that the soil moisture is so high we continue to have trees die
because of the excessive soil moisture. This year the chestnut trees started
their bloom the first week in July and on the 10th of July the trees are in
full bloom. The smell of the bloom is in the air. Only roses and orange
blossoms have a better smell than chestnuts.
We continue our research work into what kind of soils will chestnuts
live and be prosperous in. There are two conditions associated with soils
and chestnut trees that will kill a chestnut tree almost very time.
Well known to most chestnut growers is clay soils. A simple test to check
if your soil is a clay where a chestnut tree will not grow is to take a
small handfull and work the soil in your hand. If the soil holds together
after rolling it in your hands for a minute or two then it is a clay where
chestnut trees are likely not survive. The other condition is wet soils.
If the soil gets saturated while the chestnut trees are actively growing,
then this will kill most chestnut trees. If you walk through the ground and
the soil makes sounds because the soil is saturated with water then chestnut
trees will die in these conditions. Our farm will continue to work to find
cultivars more tolerant of clay and wet soils. Very few types of trees can
live in water saturated soils. It is unlikely we will be able to develop
a chestnut tree that will live and grow in saturated soil. Our goal is
to develop a root stock that will help keep the chestnut tree from dying
when the soil moisture gets close to or saturated for short periods of
time. For example, a storm passes through dumping more water than the
soil can pass through or when someone leaves the sprinklers running for
This year we developed a new grafting technique for chestnut trees. This
new technique is what we are calling the "Green on Green Grafting"
technique. The primary purpose of developing this technique is to reduce
the time need to evaluate new seedling trees for nut production. Using the
Green on Green grafting technique an orchardist can reduce the time to first
nut production by about 1 year. Current techniques require at least 3 years
for the first chestnuts to bare on a tree if the seedling stock is grafted
to a mature compatible chestnut tree. Look for a full article in the farm log
Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leafs
This year we again took leaf samples from two different fields.
The samples were taken in mid August 2008 and
sent to the lab for analysis. Here are the results of the analysis.
Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leaf Samples - Mineral Soils
Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leaf Sample - Organic/Peat Soil
We were visited by a Washington State University Extention Agent
this fall. His visit was to help us refine our orchard management
practices. When reviewing the leaf analysis we were informed that
young trees such as the ones the leaf samples were taken from, do
not provide a good reference point for managing the soil conditions.
Those of you looking at the results presented on this web site
since 2006 for comparision with your trees, should use caution because
the trees the leaves were harvested from are only 3 years old.
Chestnut trees are not considered mature until about the 8th year.
Its mid-October and the chestnuts are being harvensted. This year the
harvest is very small for two reasons. The primary reason there is a small
harvest is because of
poor pollonation in the spring. When the chestnut trees were in bloom in the
spring the daytime high temperatures were in the low to mid 50s. There were
some chestnut trees that did set nuts and others that did not. Even trees of
the same cultivar next to each other had differing results. It would appear
as if the day time highs have to be above 55F degrees for pollonation to be
successfull. The other reason is by design. If the chestnut trees are allowed
to grow to fast then the limb structure will be too weak to support the weight
of the nuts near harvest time causing excessive limb breakage. To prevent the
future losses, we prune the chestnut trees with the goal of developing strong
limb structures so when the nut load on the tree is high, the tree will not
have limbs breaking. Chestnut experts all agree upon the need to develop good
limb/branch structures when the chestnut trees are young (between 3 and 10