How to Grow Chestnuts and Hazelnuts and Why You Should

| 2/12/2018 1:47:00 PM

Tags: silviculture, hazelnuts, chestnuts, tree nuts, self sufficiency, New York, Garth and Edmund Brown,

This year’s NOFA New York Winter Conference had a huge range of workshops, from practical presentations on cover cropping and compost to discussions about reducing food waste and how to advocate for a better farm bill to intensive, hands-on bread baking classes. With dozens of workshops each day there were topics of interest and utility for farmers, gardeners, and individuals interested in the connection between health and farming.

One fascinating talk, given by Akiva Silver, owner of Twisted Tree Nursery, and Brian Caldwell, a farmer and Cornell researcher, discussed the history and practical use of hazelnuts and chestnuts. These two species are beautifully complementary: chestnuts produce a carbohydrate rich nut, while hazels are high in fat and protein. Chestnuts are full-sized trees, while hazels are modest shrubs. There are varieties of each that are adapted to a wide range of climates. They are hardy and vigorous, and together yield an abundance of food.

In the first post, I’ll summarize Akiva and Brian’s key points about hazelnut cultivation, and in the second I’ll deal with chestnuts.

About Hazelnuts

There are species of hazelnut that can grow anywhere from subtropical Asia all the way to northern Canada. Though some hazels mature to the size of proper trees, most varieties, including all of the types grown for nuts, are multi-stemmed shrubs. Their small size and high level of production makes them a perfect choice for gardeners, homesteaders, and farmers alike.

But getting the right plant is critical. Almost all commercially grown nuts — those you’ll find in the grocery store or in confections — come from the Common or European Hazel. While this may be a good variety for large hazelnut producers, its particular requirements mean it isn’t suitable for most people in most parts of America. It requires cool summers and very mild winters, and it is larger than many other hazels, easily reaching 20 feet in height. Further, it is not resistant to Filbert Blight, a disease endemic to the eastern United States.

But hazelnut bushes readily hybridize, and for decades plant breeders have been working to cross European with native Beaked and American hazels. The result is a smaller shrub - usually about eight feet tall - that is prolific, cold hardy, and resistant to Filbert Blight and other common diseases. In good soil these hybrids will begin bearing nuts in three to four years, and in seven to eight they will reach full production. While there are not yet any named, clonally produced varieties, quality stock propagated from seed is available from several sources.

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