Ask Our Experts: Growing Hazelnut Trees, Diets for Nursing Mothers and Poison In Compost

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers receive guidance on growing successful hazelnut trees, appropriate diets for nursing mothers and issues of poison oak in composts.
July/August 1987
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Filberts are wind-pollinated. Just two trees in a yard would have to be planted very close together to effectively pollinate each other.

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MOTHER's column gives MOTHER EARTH NEWs readers a chance to ask our experts about a variety of homesteading problems that are in need of a good answer. 

Growing Hazelnut Trees

I planted two filbert (hazelnut) trees seven or eight years ago. While the trees have thrived (they're 10 feet tall), they've never produced any nuts. Some little, long, squiggly things appear on them, and I get hopeful—but no crop. What's wrong? 

Your trees probably aren't being properly pollinated. (The squiggly things are staminate, or male, blooms. The pistillate, or female, blooms spend the dormant season inside buds and emerge as tight bundles of bright red strands at blooming time.) Two things may be contributing to the problem.

First, filberts are wind-pollinated. Just two trees in a yard would have to be planted very close together to effectively pollinate each other.

Second, most filberts are self-sterile and require another compatible variety in order to produce a crop. While some nurseries do advise that two plants are needed for cross-pollination, what the unwary buyer sometimes gets is two trees that were produced in a stool bed from a mother tree. This clonal reproduction results, of course, in two trees that are the same clone; genetically, they are identical.

I'd suggest you get another filbert of a different variety. The variety Royal is a very effective pollinator and is available from several mail-order nurseries in the eastern U.S.

When growing hazelnut trees plant one close to your other trees . . . and then be prepared to battle the squirrels and blue jays for the crop.

—Cecil W. Farris 

Cecil W. Farris has been breeding filberts for 25 years. He has written and lectured extensively and is an active member of the Northern Nut Growers Association. 

Mother's Milk

I've been told that I'm endangering the health of my five-month-old son, whom I'm nursing. I don't eat meat—red meat, poultry or fish—and friends say this could harm my baby's development. My daily diet consists of half-a-gallon of milk, oatmeal with one-fourth cup of wheat germ, one egg, a peanut butter sandwich, and fruits and vegetables. 

As thousands of Seventh-day Adventists can attest, nursing mothers can get all the nutrients they need on a vegetarian diet, especially one that includes dairy products and eggs. You do need to make sure you get the nutrients other people get from meat, fish and poultry, however. These include protein, niacin, iron and zinc.

The diet you've described provides more than enough protein, considering that you're drinking eight glasses of milk a day. However, you are probably getting less than the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) of the other three nutrients. Because those recommended levels are higher than the average person's needs, it is unlikely that you've done your baby harm. But it's still a good idea to shoot for the RDAs.

Your best bet is to eat more legumes, including beans, green or split peas, lentils and peanuts. They're good sources of all the nutrients you may need more of. Whole grains, such as bulgur and whole wheat bread, supply iron and niacin and more modest amounts of zinc. Leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and collards, are rich in iron. Also, try doubling your serving of wheat germ. It's one of the richest plant sources of zinc.

Even with more of these foods, you may still fall short of the RDA for zinc, as do millions of other nursing women, meat-eating or not. That's because these RDAs are set very high during lactation. If you want to be sure you're getting enough, you might take a standard dard multivitamin and mineral supplement that provides 15 milligrams of zinc.

—Bonnie Liebman, Director of Nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  

Poison Compost?

On my property there's a large mound of dried brush, about a third of it poison oak. I want to chip all this up and use it in my compost pile. Will the poison oak ruin my compost?  

No, but it won't do you a whole lot of good.

During the composting process, the poison oak—including the urushiol oil, the irritating substance present in all parts of the plant—will break down into its component parts. Thus the finished compost will harm neither you nor your plants (no itchy tomatoes). No one seems to know just how long this decomposition will take, however. Poison oak is a woody plant, so it should require lengthy composting—six months, at least. If you do compost it, add plenty of nitrogenous material (manure, leather meal, etc.) to assure a "hot" pile, which will cook faster.

Meanwhile, that pile will be hot in another sense. Like poison ivy, poison oak becomes more toxic as it dries; it loses mass (water), and the urushiol oil becomes more concentrated. If you're allergic to the weed, it's going to be a long, unpleasant winter as you chip the brush and build and turn the compost. Unless you and yours are allergy-free, I'd recommend against composting.

The standard way to dispose of cleared poison oak is to bury it, thus handling it only once. Don't burn it; the rising smoke will afflict any skin it comes in contact with. Wear protective clothing, and wash it separately (and yourself, of course) immediately after finishing the job.

The U.S. Forest Service is experimenting with a substance called Ivy Block, an organic clay to be applied to tools and skin for 24-hour protection against infection. It's not yet available commercially, but should be soon if the tests prove successful.

—Franklin Sides, a gardener for MOTHER EARTH NEWS.  

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