How to Grow Chestnuts and Hazelnuts and Why You Should: Chestnuts

| 2/26/2018 3:26:00 PM


This is the second of a two part post discussing a presentation at his year’s NOFA New York conference. If you missed part one, check it out. In this post we will move onto chestnuts. Once again, thanks to Akiva Silver, owner of Twisted Tree Nursery, and Brian Caldwell of Cornell for all the practical information.

About Chestnuts

Chestnuts were once the dominant hardwood tree species in Eastern America. On average they made up a quarter of temperate forests, and their huge size, high quality wood, and prolific nut production made them a valuable source of both timber and food. But indiscriminate logging and the introduction of chestnut blight destroyed almost all of these trees. Luckily, Asian chestnut varieties are resistant to blight, and they produce the same delicious nuts as their American counterparts. Since American chestnuts are more cold hardy, crossing the two creates a tree that is robust, disease resistant, and able to be planted all the way into climate zone 4.

 Once established chestnuts will crop well with minimal care, so they are a great choice for permaculture setups or for anyone who is just looking to easily grow more of their own food. Because they flower in late June or early July, they are not susceptible to the frost damage that can burn the blossoms of apples and other fruit trees. Further, chestnuts don’t have much of a tendency to alternate bearing - they should produce roughly the same crop year in and year out. The nuts are high in starch, making them a wonderful alternative to grains, particularly since dried chestnuts can be turned into exceptionally delicious flour.

Unless you specifically seek out varieties selected for timber production, these won’t be the towering, 100 foot monsters that previously populated American forests. But they will still mature into full size trees, 30-50 feet tall and wide, so think carefully when establishing a chestnut planting. Make sure you get stock from a reputable nursery that is selecting for blight resistance, vigor, and productivity. Trees live a long time, and spending a few extra dollars for quality at the outset will pay dividends for decades.

Rodents, deer, and hungry neighbors will scavenge the fallen nuts, so harvest them promptly once they start dropping if you want a good yield. Weevils are a more insidious problem. Adults lay eggs on chestnuts, which hatch into larvae, which in turn feed on the nut. They then enter the ground beneath the tree for an extended period, sometimes as long as three years, before emerging in August as adults to lay eggs on the burrs, thus continuing the cycle. Disrupting this pattern is another reason to harvest thoroughly and quickly. If weevils are a chronic issue, placing harvested nuts in 120 degree water for 20 minutes will destroy any eggs or larvae they contain without hurting eating quality or viability as seed.

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