Grow It: Growing Nuts, Raising Fowl

The following chapters excerpted from Grow It! discuss the process of growing nuts from several types of nut tree and raising fowl, specifically ducks, geese, swans, and turkeys.
By Richard W. Langer
September/October 1973

The book from which it all sprang, Grow It! has chapters many areas of food cultivation including growing nuts and raising fowl.
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All material here reprinted from GROW IT! copyright © 1972 by Richard W. Langer.


Growing Nuts

He that plants trees loves others besides himself.
-Old English Proverb
 

A nut tree is one of the most valuable things your homestead can have, not only for the high-protein fine winter stores and excellent eating the nutbowl will provide, but for its highly prized timber as well ... if it absolutely must be felled. The American chestnut is no more; the black walnut is not far behind in the race to extinction.

Walnuts are among the most valued of all temperate hardwoods, with a pair of good hundred-year-old trees worth more in dollars and cents than a whole furnished ready-to-move-into two-bedroom ranch house. The problem is it takes the tree that full hundred years to grow and only a couple of hours to fell it. There is some hope for the walnut, for people are beginning to wake up to the fact that even if they receive no direct benefit from a tree they plant, not even nuts for a dozen years or so, the world is that much better off for their having planted it. Granted there aren't too many people with this awareness yet ... but at least there's hope.

The American chestnut situation is a little different. The reason the village smithy no longer stands beneath its spread, the automobile notwithstanding, is simply that the species has been almost totally wiped out by blight, as has the majestic American elm.

Had one fraction of the money spent on advertising by the industries most responsible for using up trees - the paper, housing, and furniture industries - been channeled into blight research and reforestation, these trees could probably both have been saved.

Be that as it may, not only the furniture and paper industries, but also you as a farmer owe nature a few trees. And your farm will only be the better for repaying a bit of the debt. Filberts will give you a much quicker yield than walnuts, but plant both where possible, along with as many other varieties as you can. It's pretty hard to harm anyone or anything by planting a tree, particularly a nut tree.

Because of the alphabetical order the following trees got themselves put into, the first couple may lead you to despair of getting any nuts at all. Please read to the end before you decide not to take even a nutcracker along to the country.

Almond Trees

The almond, as you can tell by comparing one in its shell with a peach stone, is a close relative of the peach. Both belong to the greater rose family. Almonds come in bitter and sweet varieties. For the nut bowl the sweet are grown almost exclusively.

Although almonds will grow wherever peaches thrive, they bloom almost a month earlier and thus are often subject to spring chill. This means in many areas of late springs the tree can be grown only for decorative purposes. There's nothing wrong with that, however. If peaches grow, and if you have the space, why not try an almond tree?

Plant in early spring. Just treat it like a peach tree. Unless, of course, you want to heat your orchard the way some commercial growers do where the chill is too much for the blossoms. It's really not worth the work, however. Your almond tree won't miss the nuts much, even if you do. And on a northern slope the light will make it blossom a little later. Even if it's likely that your springs are too late, you might have an almond or two after all.

Beechnut Trees

Here's a nut tree from which you'll never get many nuts. But it's a beautiful tree, and a boost to your wildlife. Plant a couple of extra beechnuts on your "back forty" for your children to make hand-hewn heirloom furniture from when they have a homestead of their own.

The tree is very hardy and will grow in almost any soil but that with poor drainage. However, since it is a taproot-dependent tree, you have to transplant it early. Also keep competing growth away from it for the first couple of years. Then you can let it go wild. Dormant oil spray in early spring, before the tree gets growing, is a good idea, but a hundred-foot-tall tree is a bit hard to spray, so you'll have to give up eventually.

If I had my way, everyone would be planting a beechnut, hickory, or walnut tree every year to celebrate their coming to the land. It doesn't take much time or money and would make all the difference in the world ... to the world.

Chestnut Trees

The American chestnut is dead, long live the Chinese chestnut. Although a tiny, unimpressive runt when compared with the majestic cathedral spread of the native chestnut, the Chinese variety yields excellent large nuts and can be grown in almost any part of the country. As with other early-blooming trees, it is often advisable to plant on a northern slope to delay flowering.

Several trees are needed to insure pollination. Of course, you want to plant them in the same area, not at different corners of your place. Twenty-five to thirty feet apart is fine. In some cases they will yield as soon as three years after planting, in most cases four years, and six years after planting you'll have a bumper crop.

Mulching and deep, fertile, sandy loam with plenty of organic matter are necessary. The Chinese chestnut wants a lot of moisture, but it needs good drainage too. The roots are more sensitive to standing water than those of most trees.

Pruning and care are about the same as for your fruit trees, except that you'll have to keep a sharp lookout for root suckers unless you want to grow a bush instead of a tree. Harvest nuts as they hit the ground. Don't let them mold, which they'll do quickly left to their own devices.

Filbert and Hazelnut Trees

Your northern slope — or eastern, it serves almost the same purpose — is getting crowded by now, because here's another one that should be planted there to delay blooming. Lest this make you think how bare your southern slope is going to look in comparison, that's the best place for your vegetable garden.

The difference between filberts and hazelnuts, in case you're pondering on the matter, is that hazelnuts are American while the filbert was imported from Europe. Filberts in most cases produce bigger and better nuts. Both are mostly shrubs rather than trees, although there are some fifty-to sixty-foot members in the clan.

Plant whatever variety is grown locally. Usually this means filberts in areas of milder winters and hazelnuts in the colder regions. Get at least two varieties for cross-pollination. Plant in early spring, using deep, fertile, well-drained soil. For bushes, filberts and hazelnuts have amazingly long and deep roots. They also have sensitive bark, easily sun-scalded and slow to heal. Bind the trunks up for winter in burlap to reduce snowglare injury.

Root suckers must be removed every year unless you want a pincushion on your hands. For best yields, allow only three or four main trunks to develop. If you want to increase your filbert population, leaving propagation to the nut-burying squirrels won't suffice, although you'll see plenty of them around. Instead, let a sucker grow for a year on the parent plant. The next spring, take a knife and make a one-inch-long slit in the bark about six inches from the tip of the sucker. Then arch the sucker so the tip touches the ground. Stake it down so it can't pull itself loose, Bury the cut part of the sucker, from which roots will sprout. Use good compost, and leave the actual tip of the sucker exposed to grow as the plant. Water it well. Early in the second year cut the new plant free and transplant to a permanent location. You have just "layered" your first plant. Most willowy bushes and trees can be propagated in the same way.

Hickory Trees

There are several varieties here, and they're all cousins of the pecan. Treat the tree as you would a beechnut or a pecan. It's got a bear of a taproot, three to five feet long even on a young transplant, so be prepared to dig halfway to China when setting it in. Give it the best soil and compost possible, but no manure. It needs no pruning except to have the top cut back by 25 percent on planting.

If you hope to get good eating hickory nuts and not just a beautiful tree, get the shagbark variety. And if you can't get hickory stock - as is often the case because it makes a difficult and chancy transplant—find a supply of fresh-fallen nuts on your next outing in hickory country, and plant those. Plant plenty, for few will survive, but plant! 

Pecan Trees

Most of the above nut trees prefer the northern half of the country. Pecans are their southern counterpart and usually grow where cotton will. They need a long, hot growing season in order to yield.

Like all trees, pecans need deep soil, rich and well drained. And they have the deep taproot as well, which means you'll be digging again. Try five feet. Taproots on all trees must be buried absolutely vertical all the way. Don't try to rattail the tip into a curve or U-shape-you'd be better off saving yourself the time and trouble and throwing the tree away.

Cut back about 40 percent on planting. Fertilize well and protect the trunk from sun-scald. Very little pruning is necessary once the tree is growing, although usually the lower limbs are removed.

Walnut Trees

Grow black walnut trees for their beauty. Grow Carpathians for nuts. This hardy tree comes from the mountains of the same name and is thus very cold-resistant. It is also readily available through most nurseries ... by popular demand. It's noted for its large yield of high quality thin-shelled nuts.

Walnuts need deep, well-drained, rich soil, of course, but a little acidity doesn't hurt. Plant as you do other trees. Protect the bark from sunscald the first years. Black walnuts mature fully in a hundred and fifty years. But don't give up ... the Carpathians wil I bear six to eight years after planting.


Raising Fowl

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan
—ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON 

Chickens aren't the only useful domestic fowl on the farm. Ducks and geese give you variety in meat and eggs, as well as the highest quality down. And swans, though not a productive addition, personify beauty itself.

Duck Production

Among the hardiest and easiest to raise of all fowl are ducks. For the most part they are kept for their meat, though there are duck-egg connoisseurs, and the down and feathers make fine pillows. Should you have a pond on your place, the decorative breeds of duck are a pleasant addition. They also help cut down the algae, which does not aid fish growth the way plankton does.

BREEDS 

For meat you'll want the Pekin, an all-white duck with a yellow beak. Black or partially black beaks are sometimes seen, but a black-billed duck is considered inferior stock.

While Pekins will lay quite well, if you really want an egg producer, the Indian Runner is your breed. Coloration ranges from white to white and fawn to pencilled. Since these ducks grow to only half the size of Pekins, the roast duck will be a small one. On the other hand, they not only lay more eggs, but ones of better quality. An Indian Runner will give you almost as many eggs a year as a lazy chicken. Duck eggs are excellent for baking, if a little tough fried or boiled.

Show breeds available in the United States include the Call, Black East India, and Crested White. The first-named, in addition to being nice on your pond, attracts wild mallards. 

THE YARD

Ducks do not need a pond, despite the fact that they look more at home there. For meat- and egg-producers, a yard equipped with a shallow cement or steel basin full of water suffices. It should be just deep enough for the birds to wade, wallow, and wash their feathers in. Such a man-made pool is best supplied with continuously flowing fresh water.

Sandy soil is best, but not absolutely necessary, for the duck yard. What is necessary is that the soil drain very well. To this end, duck yards are usually located on sloping land. Ducks are quite sloppy and noisy fowl, so don't crowd them. Commercial breeding farms run the birds at five to eight thousand an acre, but this creates immense sanitation problems. Twenty-five to a hundred ducks is plenty for the average farm. That number can be kept comfortable and clean in a 150-by-300- foot yard.

Show ducks on your pond should not be allowed to grow to a flock of more than ten or twenty. If they do, they will trample the banks, destroy your watercress, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Besides, they'll be competing with the pond fish for nutrients. A few ducks, on the other hand, will give good balance to the pond and increase some of the nutrients.

HOUSING

Housing for ducks is about the same as that for chickens ... minus roosts, which they don't use. The two cannot be kept together, however. Mature ducks are cold-hardier than chickens, so their building doesn't have to be as tightly constructed. On the other hand, with warmer quarters than they need, they will develop less protective fat and consume less food, both of which are to your advantage. Provide the house with simple nests set about four to six inches off the floor and comfortably bedded.

The house for young ducklings must have all the litter changed frequently, preferably every two or three days. Because of their drinking habits, ducks throw around a lot of water. Even adding a fresh layer of litter every day, as you must, does not suffice to keep it dry. And wet litter makes for dead or blind ducks: ammonia from the droppings gets in their eyes.

THE FLOCK 

Your first time around, buying day-old ducklings is your best bet, particularly if you have already raised a flock of chickens. Brooding and rearing for both are pretty much the same, and you can use the same kind of equipment.

For a duck brood, the room temperature the first week should be 70°  F. and the temperature under the hover 90° F. Reduce the latter slowly to 80° F to 85° F. the second week, and 75° to 80° F. the third. The fourth through sixth weeks a 70° to 75° F. temperature is fine.

The same encircling guard system as for baby chicks is used to prevent crowding and to keep young ducklings close to the hover. Total brooder area for a hundred ducklings should be around twenty-five square feet for the first two or three days and expanded gradually to one hundred and fifty to two hundred square feet.

If the weather is warm and sunny, the ducklings can have an outside run for a few hours a day as soon as they are three weeks old. But don't let ducks younger than six weeks near the pond, or try to give them water to swim in. They'll get a chill. They are sensitive to not only moist cold, but sun as well. So when they're permitted to go outside, some shade must be provided.

The feed mix for a duck brood is similar to that for chicks. For the first week, feed wet mash from a shallow trough six times a day. Give the ducklings as much as they'll eat; then remove the trough till the next feeding. Grit or sand must always be available. Each feeding should be accompanied by fresh water in a fountain deep enough so the ducks can submerge their bills fully. They need to clean their nostrils of caked mash as well as to drink. Be sure the drinking fountain is not so designed that they can get their whole body wet, however. They'd love to, but even indoors chances are they'd catch a bad chill. The second through eighth weeks, the young ducks should be given a growing ration fed three times daily. Keep the water fountains clean and filled.

When they are six weeks old the brooder can be removed from the house and the ducks allowed to range. At ten weeks they'll weigh in at six pounds or so and are ready for the roaster. This is the prime time for tender ducks, although they are still very tasty if slaughtered a few months later. Ducks are dressed the same way as chickens.

BREEDING 

In some ways it's easiest to buy day-old ducklings every year for a new flock. But you may want to keep a breeding flock of your own. If you do, reserve the best of your ducks for breeding stock. Select those with bills, feet, and shanks colored an even, heavy yellow. Look for a solid, compact body, with broad, full breast and short neck. The plumage should be glossy and full, the eyes round, big, and bright. You'll need one drake for every five or six ducks.

Keep a breeding flock separate from the laying flock if you don't gather eggs twice a day. Eggs for hatching should be fresh.

Ducks make poor mothers. So when one of your chicken hens gets broody, let her stay that way instead of trying to break her of it. Confine your ducks one night and the next morning gather as many newly laid duck eggs as you can. If you don't collect enough that day for the size brood you want, you can store the eggs in a cool, damp place ... no longer than five days, though. And make sure you turn them twice a day. If not, the old wives' tale goes, the duck will stick to the shell. True or not, fewer eggs will hatch if you don't turn them.

Slip a batch of duck eggs under a setting hen slowly. Remember, a broody hen thinks you're out to swipe her eggs ... even if she's sitting on an empty nest. She'll be temperamental and prone to peck. You can allot up to ten duck eggs per broody hen. They should hatch in twenty-eight days, unless you have Muscovy ducks, whose eggs take thirty-four.

A mother hen will leave the nest once a day to eat, for perhaps half an hour. If you're lucky enough to find her away from her post, take the opportunity to sprinkle the duck eggs lightly with warm water, particularly toward the end of the hatching period. Duck eggs, as might be suspected, need more moisture than their land-fowl counterparts. Also be sure to turn the eggs once a day. A chicken will do it herself with her own eggs, but the duck eggs will be a little too big for her to handle.

THE BROOD 

Once the eggs hatch, the mother hen should be confined to a floorless cage three by three feet in floor area raised high enough so the young ducklings can crawl under the bottom to roam farther when they want. Hens like to walk, ducks are not as adept at it. By confining the hen, she will not exhaust the ducklings.

Newly hatched ducks do not need to be given food or water the first twenty-four hours. After that, the care and feeding schedule is the same as for your first shipment of day-old ducklings.

When the ducks reach the four-week age, the mother hen may be released from her confinement to guide her ersatz brood wherever she wants. At six or seven weeks the young ducks are ready to swim. If your ducklings have been raised by a chicken hen, incidentally, be prepared to see her throw a violent fit when the ducks take to the water instead of to the roosts. It may be a few days before she gives up on her rebel swimmers and calms down.

Goose Production

Geese are even easier to keep than ducks, for during the green season they can subsist primarily on pasturage. Their range, however, should be separate from that for other livestock, since they are rather sloppy about their hygiene. Also, don't let them pasture in the orchard if you have young trees. They will destroy the bark. On the other hand, they are excellent for weeding strawberry patches; the stupid things much prefer weeds to luscious sun-ripened strawberries. Geese are such weed fiends they've been used for many decades now in "goosing down" cotton, or keeping the fields clean, down Dixie way.

Geese are hardy creatures, and the only shelter they will need is a small house, insulated in the coldest areas, with an open entrance and a floor to keep out the dampness. In the South you really don't need to shelter them at all except to provide shade, either artifical or natural. As an extra plus, the much-neglected goose is very disease- and parasite-resistant.

BREEDS 

The geese available in the United States are Toulouse, Embden, African, Chinese, Pilgrim, Sebastopol, Canadian, and Egyptian. The first four are the most common in the United States, and the apprentice farmer should limit his choice to the Toulouse or the Embden. All the others are much smaller, except for the African, and that one is very noisy. The honking might be appealing in the beginning, but you'd soon have more than enough of it. If the Pilgrim is available in your region (which it isn't often), some thought may be given to keeping this breed. Although it matures to little more than half the size of a Toulouse, the male and female have different-colored plumage, which is handy when you're just starting out to breed since it prevents you from accidentally slaughtering the only gander in your flock.

A mature Toulouse weighs between twenty and twenty-five pounds. It is a gray goose with white abdomen sweeping up to the tail. The female will lay an average of twenty-five eggs a year over a period of about a month. However, she can't set on that many. Fifteen will be plenty for the goose. Farm out the rest at the rate of five per broody chicken hen. The number of eggs per hen should not exceed five ... you'll see why after checking out the egg size. In fact, a hen is unable to turn the egg, which is necessary, so you'll have to do it for her once a day. Start the chickens setting first, before the goose. In other words, set the first five eggs laid under a hen, the second five under another hen. Then let the goose set on whatever else she lays. Incubation time is about thirty days. When the goose's eggs are hatched, slip the hen-hatched goslings into the nest at night to ensure adoption. Make sure she's taken them in before you leave them on their own. If she hasn't, you'll have to give them back to the hen.

Embden geese are smaller than Toulouse, averaging fifteen to twenty pounds. They are pure white, and thus more popular when feathers are wanted. Although their egg production is lower than that of the Toulouse (about fifteen eggs per goose per year), they will usually do their own setting, and they make good mothers.

TENDING THE FLOCK 

Geese mate in the fall. One gander will oblige up to four geese, and if you're planning on roasters, bigamy is the best course. Often, however, a gander selects a mate for life. Don't break up the happy couple. But do keep them away from other ganders during the mating season or some nasty fights will ensue.

As to fights, ganders are naturally pugnacious and, particularly during the rearing season, will often attack anything that approaches a nest. This trait is an excellent reason for selecting Embdens, since with Embdens you won't have to pick up all those extra eggs that may well be guarded by the gander long after the goose has given up on the whole affair. You might think of ganders as only birds, but a couple of good-sized ones can send you to the hospital for a week if they really put their minds to it. Use caution ... or stick to ducks.

If you're using a chicken hen to set on Toulouse eggs, she may need watching. The eggs are apt to hatch unevenly, and the hen will stroll off with the first thing that moves, leaving the remaining eggs to rot. So take each gosling from the nest as soon as it's born. If its mother rejects it, or hasn't hatched her batch yet, keep the new gosling in a flannel-lined box located in a warm corner. Keep the box clean and dry.

Once the hen has hatched her five, if the goose rejects the lot, use the same hen-confinement method as with ducks. At three to four weeks, as long as they are fully feathered out, the young goslings may be allowed to swim. Up to this time, however, they must not be allowed to get wet. Don't let them out on the grass until the dew is well burned off for the day. A moist chill is often fatal to bare goslings.

Goslings are raised like ducks, except that they must have fresh greens at all times. Provide plenty of fresh fountain water in constant supply and feed four times a day, as much as they'll take. Chopped, hard-boiled eggs, stale bread soaked in milk just enough to get it moist, and chopped alfalfa, clover, or vegetables with a teaspoon of cod liver oil make a good mix for the first week. The second and third weeks the feed should be a wet mash of cornmeal and chicken growing mash in addition to pasturage. After that the geese can be allowed to fend for themselves on the range.

An acre will carry ten geese. They are destructive to pasture, grazing close to the ground, so rotation is essential. It's recommended that they be given a daily supplemental feeding. A good feed is half cornmeal and half wheat bran or oats, with another 10 percent meat scraps or middlings (wheat germ). Soaking the meal in buttermilk or sour milk to make wet mash is excellent. Water, oyster shells or limestone, and grit should all be available on a demand basis.

In winter increase the grain supplement for geese to 20 percent of their diet and give them legume hay or silage for the rest. They must have roughage. Fresh vegetable tops and parings should be given when available to your geese in preference to your pigs or other farm animals.

Before slaughtering a holiday-dinner goose, put it on a moist-mash, fattening ration of yellow cornmeal and oats for a couple of months. Mix equal proportions of each with buttermilk or skim milk to make the mash wet and extra fattening. The wet mash should constitute about 50 to 75 percent of the goose's diet, with the rest pasturage or other green fodder. However, don't switch a goose to a fattening diet overnight or it might develop digestive problems. Switch gradually, over a week, particularly if your geese have been almost exclusively on pasture. In Europe geese are often force-fed to make them extra plump and expand the liver. This practice isn't worth it unless you're a glutton for punishment. Goose eggs, incidentally, make excellent rubber sink stoppers when fried. You're better off hatching them or selling them to someone else who wants to raise geese.

Swan Production

If you have a fair-sized pond, a pair of swans, the most graceful of all waterfowl, may well be worth keeping. You'll get neither meat nor eggs from them, but they take next to no care and are esthetically one of the most beautiful of all avians.

Swans mate for life. So buy a pair if you can. Then step back. Male swans are nothing if not ill-tempered. Eventually they will get to know you and come regularly for feeding to supplement their diet of water plants and insects. Even then, it is advised that you make yourself scarce during mating time. The swans will put together a large nest of scraps and twigs. Six to eight greenish-white eggs will be laid and the male will stand guard over them. He is now ready to attack ... anything from a cat to an elephant or tractor that approaches the nest. With luck, you'll have some young swans in six weeks. But don't be too disappointed if they die young. Swans often live to sixty years of age ... provided they survive their first season.

Turkey Production

There's only one sane word of advice to the beginner on the subject of turkeys. Don't raise them. They are incredibly stupid birds. So much so in fact that if not patiently taught to eat, they won't know how and will starve to death ... although once they get the habit, you can't stop them. They won't even learn to drink unless you keep some marbles in the water fountain to give them something interesting to peck at. They are also disease-prone, and have to be brought in out of the rain or they'll catch their death of cold ... an exasperating bit of farm routine for the apprentice during the rainy season. A turkey egg omelet can be beat ... easily. And so can the Thanksgiving turkey dinner. I'm all for tradition. But a modern prepackaged turkey bears no resemblance to the flavorsome fowl of Pilgrim times. Consider the alternative ... a plump roast goose.


GROW IT! is a big book and even if a chunk this size were to be run in issue after issue after issue of MOTHER, it would take over two years to put the complete volume in your hands. If you haven't got two years to play around with, we recommend that you truck on down to your nearest book store and shell out $8.95 for your very own copy of GROW IT! That way, Richard Langer will be happy, Saturday Review Press will be happy ... and we're betting that you'll be happy too. It's a darn good book.

For the first time since the HAVE-MORE Plan was published way back in the 1940's, a fellow named Richard W. Langer has come up with a 365-page book that really introduces a beginner to small-scale farming. Wanna raise your own fruit, nuts, berries, vegetables, grain, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and honeybees? GROW IT! tells you how to get started. We like it.  


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